Four Ways Out
Published January 10, 2019 / Updated August 7, 2020

Four Ways Out

There are four ways the shutdown ends

by Chris Thomas

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Photo by Kev Seto on Unsplash

As of this writing the U.S. government is partially shut down. Congress hasn’t put an appropriations bill on Mr. Trump’s desk because the Senate won’t consider anything that might face a Presidential veto. Trump has indicated that he’ll veto anything that doesn’t fund his wall and the Democrats in the House are still fresh off of an electoral victory based on resisting the President’s agenda. That deadlock has pretty much defined the state of affairs for the past twenty days.

There are four ways to break it:

The Conventional Way

This is how shutdowns ordinarily resolve themselves. Both sides spit at each other while federal workers eat ramen noodles and cat food until it becomes clear who is going to take the blame for the shutdown. Then that party backs down.

1. The Democrats Back Down

This is the most obvious way out, and one that many Democrats would object to, but there is a dollar figure that would end the shutdown. If House Democrats passed a wall-funding measure there’s every reason to believe it would clear the Senate (assuming Democrats didn’t filibuster it) and that Trump would sign it.

This would be a profound betrayal of the base that swept Democrats into power. Backing down now probably guarantees Trump a win in 2020.

2. Trump Backs Down

Trump has promised to veto appropriations bills that don’t fund his wall and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that he won’t allow bills the President will veto to come to a vote in the Senate. But if Trump backed down on his wall demands there would be no reason for McConnell to prevent a vote and, by all accounts, a wall-free funding bill would clear both chambers.

Trump ran on one and only one substantive policy issue: building the wall. He can’t back down on this and look his base in the eye next November.

The Unconventional Way

This Presidency has been basically a rolling constitutional crisis from almost the moment Trump was sworn in. Why stop now?

3. Trump Invokes Emergency Powers

The White House has been signaling that it might be willing to declare the “situation” on the southern border an “emergency.” There’s no facts or rationale to support that declaration, other than the fact that Trump really wants to build a wall there, but unfortunately that doesn’t impede the President’s ability to declare an emergency.

Presidential emergency powers are vast and Trump could use them to shake the money for the wall out of other budgets (like the Pentagon) regardless of what Congress says. A legal fight would ensue, but Trump would probably be able to start the construction process (if not actual construction) while it resolved.

If this happens it sets a terrifying precedent for the country. Even if you trust Trump with this power, would you trust every President that might come after him? Could President Warren declare an emergency to fund a $10 trillion green energy initiative? Could President Harris declare an emergency to seize firearms?

4. A Bipartisan Congress Overrides Trump’s Veto

The only reason we’re still talking about any of this is that McConnell won’t let clean appropriations bills come to a vote in the Senate. Previous votes suggest that wall-free bills could pass both houses of Congress by the two-thirds majorities necessary to override Trump’s veto—doing that would end the shutdown.

Of course if this happens, it signals a huge break between Congressional Republicans and the President. Even the famously disciplined Republican party isn’t always in lock-step, but on the President’s signature issue siding with the Democrats would constitute a huge blow to the White House and signal a real loss of faith in the party.

Tell Congress What You Think

While only Trump can decide to invoke emergency powers, the rest of this is up to Congress. The shutdown itself won’t last forever but the consequences of it could be with us for decades to come. You can write to Congress about this or any other topic by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to do something great.

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