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.”
Trump Reveals Details of Pelosi’s Afghanistan Troop Visit and Suggests She Violate Security by Flying Commercial
WASHINGTON, January 17, 2009 — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday got an answer to the question of how President Donald Trump would respond to her decision to postpone inviting him to deliver his annual message to Congress: Tit for tat.
In retaliation for her denying him a nationally-televised “State of the Union” address, Trump informed Pelosi that she and a number of her colleagues would not have access to the military aircraft they’d planned to use for an official trip to visit NATO allies and American troops in Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan.
“Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will schedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over. In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” Trump said Thursday in a letter to Pelosi’s office.
“I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown. Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.”
Trump’s decision was so sudden and last-minute that lawmakers found out about it while on a bus headed to Joint Base Andrews, where they’d been scheduled to board a flight for the Brussels-bound leg of the trip.
White House officials said the decision was not aimed solely at Pelosi or her colleagues, as any other Congressional travel will be canceled until the government re-opens.
While Pelosi’s rationale for disinviting Trump from the Capitol stemmed from a desire to avoid more strain on the Department of Homeland Security employees – including Secret Service agents – who’ve been working without pay for nearly a month, Trump’s actions won’t have the same effect.
The trip’s use of a military aircraft meant it would not have involved any federal workers who are currently going without pay, as the Defense Department is fully funded for fiscal year 2019.
Still, a president who owns his own Boeing 757 might see the idea of forcing the Speaker of the House to fly commercial as a fun bit of revenge.
However, Trump’s revelation of her destination and suggestion that she travel commercially might not be a laughing matter.
Because Afghanistan is considered an active combat zone, the details of Pelosi’s trip had been a closely-guarded secret, with her staff asking news organizations to hold off on reporting that the trip would take place for national security reasons.
A Christmastime trip to Iraq by President Trump also took place under similar conditions, with the pool of reporters who travel with him kept from reporting on the trip until he had left Iraqi airspace.
But it’s not just Trump’s reveal of Pelosi’s destination that goes against established protocol. By suggesting that Pelosi fly commercial, he encouraged her to violate important protocols established after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Because the Presidential Succession Act puts the Speaker of the House second in the presidential line of succession — after Vice President Mike Pence but before the Senate President Pro Tempore, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa — her security needs are more complex than the rest of her leadership.
While Pelosi doesn’t have a Secret Service detail, as Speaker she is guarded round-the-clock by a group of Special Agents from the U.S. Capitol Police Dignitary Protection Division.
The USCP bodyguards – whose “Special Agent” status allows them to protect Pelosi anywhere in the United States – are drawn from the same elite group as the two USCP officers who gained acclaim two years ago, after defending a group of House Republicans when they were shot at on a Virginia baseball field.
But the security measure Trump suggested Pelosi cavalierly ignore originated to deal with an even more insidious threat than a mass shooter. Unlike most members of Congress, the Speaker of the House has generally not flown on commercial aircraft since the day Al Qaeda terrorists flew hijacked passenger planes into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers of New York City’s World Trade Center.
This precaution began in the wake of those terror attacks, when the Defense Department found that military transport aircraft should be provided for the use of then-Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
Scott Palmer, who served as Hastert’s chief of staff, told BeltwayBreakfast that one major concern behind the decision was ensuring that the White House Situation Room be able to reach the Speaker at all times.
“When you’re sitting on a commercial plane, that’s not very easy,” said Palmer, who served as Hastert’s top aide from his election in 1986 through 2007, when the now-disgraced Illinoian retired after losing the gavel to none other than Pelosi.
“It was essentially a security measure and a presidential succession issue,” he explained.
Pelosi’s air transport also attracted attention during her first go-round in the Speaker’s chair when Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, then the GOP Whip, suggested that Pelosi had demanded she be allocated an Air Force C-32 transport – the same model of plane frequently used by the Vice President – to travel between Washington and her San Francisco, California home.
Blunt suggested the C-32, which he called a “flying Lincoln bedroom,” was meant to be at Pelosi’s beck and call to transport her and whomever else she so desired.
Then-President George W. Bush’s White House stood behind Pelosi’s access to military aircraft.
Asked about Blunt’s comments, then-White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told reporters that her air travel needs had the support of the White House and Pentagon.
“After September 11th, the Department of Defense — with the consent of the White House — agreed that the Speaker of the House should have military transport,” said Snow, who passed away in 2008. “Speaker Hastert had access to military aircraft and Speaker Pelosi will, too,” he said at the time.
Trump Entices ‘Problem Solvers’ to White House in Unsuccessful Attempt to Squeeze Pelosi on Shutdown
WASHINGTON, January 16, 2019 — President Donald Trump’s second consecutive attempt to publicly drive a wedge between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team and rank-and-file Democrats was as ineffective as the first.
Although seven Democratic members of the House’s moderately-minded Problem Solver’s Caucus joined their Republican colleagues in a White House Situation Room meeting with the president, they made clear that their presence would in no way indicate a willingness to allow Donald Trump to dictate terms on border security funding while the longest-ever partial government shutdown in American history continues.
In a statement, the seven House Democrats — New York Reps. Anthony Brindisi, Thomas Suozzi and Max Rose, Freshman Reps. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., second-term Rep. Vincente Gonzales, D-Texas and caucus co-chair Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. made clear that ending the nearly-month-long government shutdown is a necessary precondition for a successful negotiation on border security.
“Over the last weeks, we have been listening to our constituents and speaking with our fellow Members of Congress — in both parties and in both chambers. There is strong agreement across the aisle and around the country: We must reopen the government” they said in a statement.
“Our security, safety, and economy have been compromised, and millions of families are suffering.”
The Problem Solver’s Caucus members suggested that there is bipartisan agreement that reopening the government would provide the possibility of both parties coming together to fix some of the country’s toughest problems.
“But that conversation can only begin in earnest once the government is reopened. We accepted the White House’s invitation to meet today to convey that message.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders had this to say about the meeting: “The President and his team had a constructive meeting with bipartisan members of the problem solvers caucus. They listened to one another and now both have a good understanding of what the other wants. We look forward to more conversations like this.”
The message those seven Democrats conveyed to the president also seemed to put an end to the tactic he’s employed in his quest to force Democrats to accept blame for the shutdown, which is almost 26 days old.
For the second time in as many days, moderate-minded members refused to put themselves between Trump and House Democrats. White House officials had been attempting to portray Pelosi and other Democratic leaders as out of touch with the rank-and-file of their caucus.
The White House initially invited a number of House Democratic backbenchers to have lunch with a group of their Republican colleagues and the president on Tuesday
There appeared to be little rhyme or reason to who received invitations apart from some members of the Blue Dog Caucus, a group of moderate Democrats who mostly reside in so-called “red” states.
However, not one of those who were invited took the president up on his invitation.
One member of House Democratic leadership said the White House’s futile pursuit of Democratic allies reveals how badly the president has miscalculated.
“The president is definitely underestimating how unified Democrats are, but more importantly, he’s missing how completely isolated he is in the country right now” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and a leadership liaison to the caucus’ junior members. “Nobody wants to be a pawn in Trump’s bizarre game.”
Raskin told BeltwayBreakfast he has “no idea” why Trump continues to focus on House Democrats when the Senate has yet to take up any of the GOP-authored appropriations bills the House has passed in recent days. Those pieces of legislation, which members of the upper chamber had approved unanimously, were authored as part of a compromise which the president upended after criticism from right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh and anti-immigration commentator Ann Coulter.
“No one is going to budge in terms of demanding the reopening of the government. Either the president does not understand the political dynamics of the situation, or this is a comical effort to distract attention from [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate who could reopen the government today” Raskin said.
The second-term Progressive Caucus member said that many of his GOP colleagues are dismayed over the president’s stubbornness, and are despairing of the political consequences yet to come if the shutdown continues.
“They want to see the whole thing go away,” Raskin said, predicting that if Senate Republicans begin to break away from McConnell and vote to reopen the government, enough of their House counterparts would join with Democrats that a veto of any funding bill could be easily overridden.
“The moment that any significant number of Senate Republicans blow the whistle, you’re going to see a cascade of Republicans joining the movement to reopen the government — I don’t think they can sustain the kind of political isolation that is Donald Trump’s calling card.”
DC-Area Senators Ask Trump to Meet with Furloughed Feds, White House End-Run Around Pelosi Falls Flat
WASHINGTON, January 15, 2019 — Senators from the Washington area are urging President Trump to meet with some of the federal workers who have gone without paychecks during the longest partial government shutdown in United States history.
“We have spoken to federal workers who will not be able to afford to keep their home, purchase their medication, or put money in their child’s school lunch account if this shutdown continues,” said Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Mark Warner, D-Va., in a Monday letter to the president.
“These civil servants are proud of their jobs, and this government shutdown is preventing them from doing important work for the American people.”
The four Senate Democrats noted that Trump has been itching to shut down the government over funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border since at least early last year when he tweeted about the need for a “good shutdown.”
“If you heard directly from [the federal workers], it would be clear that there is no such thing as a good government shutdown,” they wrote.
More than 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay since December 22, when funding for numerous federal agencies expired after Trump upended a bipartisan funding deal.
That deal, which would have provided nearly $2 billion for new border security funding, drew the ire of right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
Responding to their demands, Trump declared that he would not sign the compromise funding bill, which the Senate passed unanimously shortly before Christmas.
The House has since moved to pass the Republican-authored appropriations bills which the upper chamber had approved by voice vote not one month ago.
Enough Senate Republicans have expressed support for reopening the government that the bills would easily pass the Senate if brought up for a vote, but the legislation has so far gotten a cool reception in the chamber that had birthed it, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, refusing to bring any funding bill to the floor without Trump’s permission.
Moreover, negotiations toward resolving the impasse have been non-existent since the president walked out of a meeting between Democratic and Republican leaders of both chambers last week.
The walkout occurred after Pelosi refused to accede to Trump’s demand for approximately $5 billion to pay for the border wall he once claimed would be paid for by Mexico.
Trump’s feint toward bipartisanship falls flat
With both sides deeply dug in and the shutdown entering its 25th day, the president on Tuesday attempted to make an end-run around the House’s newly-installed Democratic leadership by inviting a number of House Democrats to the White House for lunch. Not among those invited, however, was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or any other member of her leadership team.
White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp touted the invitations as evidence that the president was willing to bypass an allegedly unwilling-to-negotiate leadership team to work directly with “rank-and-file Democrats,” presumably in the hope that those hailing from conservative-leaning swing districts would be more receptive to the president’s unwavering demands.
Unfortunately for Trump, none of the five Democrats who received invitations took the president up on his offer.
Among those turning down the chance to participate in what would have amounted to a bipartisan photo opportunity was Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.
“I continue to believe the Senate should pass and the President should sign the bills reopening government that the House already passed,” Murphy said in a statement.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assailed Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer for allegedly being unwilling to negotiate, while the president and his team “are working hard to find solutions to solve the humanitarian and national security crisis at the border and reopen the government.”