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The Looming Threat of a Government Shutdown May Be Overblown

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Photograph of President Trump during the State of the Union Address/Office of the House Speaker

WASHINGTON, December 17, 2018 — The uncertainty of looming government shutdown on December 21 will be on full display on Wednesday morning when Congress reconvenes for a last-ditch attempt to tackle the seven remaining must-pass appropriations bills to fund the government for fiscal year 2019.

At the White House, where President Trump said last week that he’d be “proud” to shut down the government should the House and Senate decline to fund his proposed wall along the order with Mexico, administration officials appeared slightly less excited about the prospect of putting roughly 800,000 federal employees out of work days before Christmas.

“We don’t want to shut down the government,” said White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp. “But we’ve got to find increased spending for border security.”

The president, Schlapp said, is “very focused” on obtaining the $5 billion he says is necessary in order to follow through on building a border wall that he promised, during the presidential campaign, would be paid for by the government of Mexico.

Although the administration may be striking a more optimistic and conciliatory tone leading into Wednesday’s negotiations, one former administration official who is close to Trump told BeltwayBreakfast that the president is not bluffing and remains fully prepared to embrace a shutdown if he does not get what he believes is necessary to secure the southern border.

“He has no problem taking responsibility for a government shutdown if he can’t negotiate with these guys,” said the former official. “They’ll ride it out for as long as it takes.”

Former Trump official says that a shutdown is not likely

Responding to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who on Sunday accused Trump of blocking a bipartisan deal with a “temper tantrum,” the former official was confident in the president’s ability to bend Democrats to his will.

“He can hit the target and he doesn’t blink,” he said. “He’s going to get the other guy to blink.”

Marc Short, who handled the administration’s relations with Capitol Hill until this past summer, acknowledged that the administration has “a lot to figure out” in the coming days. But he discounted the predictions of doom, gloom, and furloughs.

“I’m not convinced we’ll end up there,” he said, referring to the possibility of a shutdown.

Short pointed out that even if negotiations fail and funding lapses, the parts of the government that have been fully funded through the end of fiscal year 2019 are those that normally cause the most headaches. Those include the Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services that manages Medicare and Social Security.

Short also noted that the partial nature of any potential shutdown could allow for an extended stalemate, in which affected agencies remain closed without much disruption to the general public.

“The average person, I think, will not be impacted,” he said.

One member of Congress doesn’t think a shutdown will be catastrophic

One member of Congress who concurs with Short’s assessment is Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C, who noted that the portion of the government that would cease operations in the event of a funding lapse is relatively small in the grand scheme of things.

“You take out interest, you take out entitlement spending, you take out the large [appropriations] bills that have already gone through, we’re talking about only 8 percent of federal spending.”

A shutdown would mean Sanford, who is departing Capitol Hill for the second time after losing his seat to a primary challenger, is leaving the House in a similar condition to how he found it when he arrived in 1995 — in the throes of a shutdown crisis prompted by clashes between then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, and President Bill Clinton.

Sanford said the root causes of the 1995 funding lapse and the shorter ones seen under President Trump are the same.

“Strongly held opinion and disagreement leads to an impasse and a shutdown,” he said.

He acknowledged a major difference between the past and present situations, noting that in 1995, Republicans had a Democratic president to content with, whereas now they control both the executive and legislative branches.

“Typically you don’t see shutdowns on the same team, it’s usually Republicans versus Democrats that leads to a shutdown,” Sanford said.

“It’s certainly curious, odd, and different that it comes this way, but we are where we are.”

 

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anywhere else news happens for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

White House

Party-Line Votes Stop Schumer’s Subpoena Push

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The Senate has rejected a succession of amendments to the rules governing President Trump’s impeachment trial which would direct Chief Justice John Roberts to issue subpoenas to the White House and several executive branch agencies which refused to honor subpoenas issued during the House’s impeachment inquiry.

Senators voted along party lines, 53-47 to table a series of amendments offered to the proposed Republican-authored trial rules by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, which would have compelled the White House, the State Department, and the Office of Management and Budget to produce documents for the Senate to consider as evidence when deciding whether to remove Trump from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, condemned Democrats for objecting to the “very reasonable proposal” of using a process similar to that used to try President Bill Clinton in 1999.

“This seems to be a time for Adam Schiff and the house managers to attack the president and lecture the American people,” he said.

While speaking to reporters during a break in the trial, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar hit back against White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who during part of his arguments on Tuesday remarked that “some of you” (referring to senators who are currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination) “should be in Iowa” rather than sitting in the Senate chamber.

“I’ve made clear from the very beginning that I’ve got to do my constitutional duty,” she said.

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White House

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Outlines Proposal to Majority Leader for Senate Trial of Donald Trump

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Photo of Sen. Chuck Schumer from December 2011 by Bill Ingalls of NASA

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2019 – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial to feature witness testimony that was not elicited by House Democrats during their months-long impeachment investigation.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Schumer, D-NY, proposed that the president’s Senate trial begin on Tuesday, January 7th, with House Democrats’ beginning to present their case two days later.

Under Schumer’s proposed trial structure, House Democrats and the president’s attorneys would each have 24 hours to present their case.

But Schumer would also like to hear from witnesses “with direct knowledge of Administration decisions regarding the delay in security assistance funds to the government of Ukraine.”

Among the witnesses Schumer would like Democrats to call are White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Mulvaney adviser Robert Blair, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Office of Management and Budget Associate Director for National Security Michael Duffey.

Messrs. Mulvaney, Blair, Bolton and Duffey were each subpoenaed by House Democrats during the House’s investigation, but each of them declined to appear, citing President Trump’s order that administration officials ignore subpoenas issued as part of the House’s inquiry.

According to Schumer, witnesses are necessary because unlike most figures involved in President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, none of the witnesses he has proposed have offered any previous testimony, while many potential witnesses at Clinton’s trial testified before Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s grand jury.

“The trial structure I outlined in my letter to Leader McConnell will ensure all the facts come out,” Schumer said Monday while speaking to reporters.

“In the coming weeks, Republican senators will have a choice — do they want a fair, honest trial that examines all the facts, or do they want a trial that doesn’t let the facts come out?” he asked.

“Trials have witnesses,” he said, adding that if Republicans declined to allow witnesses to be called, the American people would infer that Trump has something to hide.

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Opinion

Trump Administration and Its Enablers Attempt to Smear Civil Servants, Not Political Holdovers

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Photo of former U.S. Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch in September 2016 by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv

After two weeks of hearings which revealed President Donald Trump’s attempt to force Ukraine’s government to announce sham investigations into conspiracy theories meant to exonerate Russia from having interfered in the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden’s family, it’s now a foregone conclusion that Democrats will eventually vote to approve articles of impeachment against a president for only the third time in American history.

When the House reconvenes in December, the task of crafting those articles will fall to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and his staff. They will have a lot of material to work with, mostly testimonial evidence from career foreign service officers, civil servants, foreign policy experts, and even an active duty Army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.

But rather than accept the testimony of these largely nonpartisan public servants, Republicans have endeavored to shoot the messengers.

Lt. Col. Vindman, who emigrated here as a child from the Soviet Union and who has literally bled for his adopted homeland (earning a Purple Heart in the process), was recently branded as “Vindictive Vindman” by first-term Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Other witnesses, like Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, have been branded as “Never Trumpers” by the president himself. And the Intelligence Community whistleblower whose complaint touched off the entire impeachment inquiry has been labeled — without evidence — a “Democrat operative” by Trump defenders such as Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the Intelligence Committee’s ranking member.

Some observers may see the constant counterpunching and impugning of witnesses’ motives as just another part of Republicans’ strategy to defend President Trump. But it’s not.

It’s much more frightening than that.

The attempt to smear these nonpartisan civil servants is part of a long-running attempt by Trump and his allies to delegitimize the entire concept of a non-partisan civil service.

It’s a project that stems both from Trump’s obsession with loyalty combined with his misguided belief that federal employees work for him, and from his administration’s goal to “deconstruct the administrative state.”

It began shortly after Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2017, when his allies in conservative media began complaining about “Obama holdovers” serving on the staff of the National Security Council, and in places like the Defense Department, State Department, and pretty much every other executive branch agency.

These “holdovers,” Trump allies said, were to blame for many of the president’s failures, and were part of a Democratic “deep state” working to frustrate Trump’s goals.

The problem with that, of course, is that there is no such thing as a “holdover” — at least not the way Trump and his allies mean.

It is possible for an agency official to be a holdover from a previous administration. When President Obama was preparing to take office in January 2009, he asked then-Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates to remain in his position.

Gates, a political appointee, was literally held over from the previous administration.

But that’s not what the term means to Trump and his allies.

To them, “holdovers” are the career civil servants and subject matter experts who keep the government running. Such people been a fixture in American government since 1883, when then-President Chester Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which created a competitive exam process for selecting government employees and made it illegal to fire them for political reasons.

Arthur was an unlikely booster for the idea of a professional civil service. He was a “stalwart,” part of a faction of the Republican Party that supported the “spoils” system, which gave the president — and the party controlling the White House — complete control of federal hiring. He was elected as James Garfield’s running mate to placate those Republicans who were concerned about Garfield’s potential for turning off the spoils system’s spigot of graft.

But the abundance of patronage jobs — and the president’s control over them — ended up costing Garfield his life in September 1881, months after he’d been shot twice by Charles Guiteau, a mentally ill man who’d attacked Garfield in a Washington, D.C. train station because he’d been denied the job of consul to Vienna or Paris.

The horror of Garfield’s assassination galvanized public support for a civil service bill, and Arthur — who’d been the subject of unfounded suspicions after his name was invoked by Garfield’s assassin — signed it.

Since then, nonpartisan civil servants have been a fact of life for presidents.

Most have understood that the career professionals who staff the executive branch departments have a vital function.

But not Trump.

For Trump, having served in government during Barack Obama’s presidency is enough to cast suspicion on any federal employee, and his suspicion of career professionals has extended throughout the executive branch.

At agencies large and small, policy planning meetings are routinely restricted to political appointees, and some policies — like the proposed (and dead-in-the-water) merger between the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration — have been designed to give the White House more control over hiring.

Many of those policies have not come to fruition, but the goal of getting rid of “disloyal” employees has now become an article of faith for Trump defenders.

A Senate trial will give Republicans yet more reasons to attack career professionals as disloyal.

The next election will determine whether punishment for “disloyalty” will become more than a conservative pipe dream.

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