Thomas Gallatin / December 21, 2018

Shutdown: Organized Political Theater

The president doubles down on his demand for border-wall funding. Planned chaos.

What a difference 24 hours can make. Early yesterday, it appeared that Democrats had won a surprising victory with the Senate’s passage of a stopgap spending bill that did not include any funding for President Donald Trump’s long-demanded border wall. It looked as if Trump had finally capitulated to the Democrats, with the White House indicating that he would sign the legislation.

However, then came the unexpected twist. Trump called a seeming “last minute” meeting with Republican House leadership that concluded with outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan stating, “The president informed us that he will not sign the bill that came up from the Senate last evening because of his legitimate concerns for border security.” What then transpired could best be described as Trump calling the bluff of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In last week’s on-camera Oval Office wall brawl between Trump and Democrat leaders Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the following argument over wall funding occurred:

“If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session — we’d be done,” Trump insisted.

“Well, then do it. Do it,” Pelosi said. “You will not win. The fact is you do not have the votes in the House.”

“Nancy, I do,” replied Trump.

“Well,” she taunted, “then let’s take the vote and find out.”

And then yesterday happened. House Republicans proved Trump correct, as they voted to insert $5.7 billion in funding for the border wall into the bill. Now the legislation heads back to the Senate as talk of a (meaningless) government shutdown looms.

This is classic Trump: He intentionally presents an image of chaotic, spur-of-the-moment decision-making that has everyone’s heads spinning. But there’s a method to his madness. He was elected to shake things up in Washington, and indeed the centralized power structure has been shaken.

So, regarding this spending bill, what is the endgame? It appears likely that Trump will get some funding for the border, though perhaps not the entire $5.7 billion. It may be the Senate concedes to something in the range of $1.6 billion. The important point will be that Trump opens the door to finally get funding for his wall. Once it’s opened, then it can subsequently be pushed further.

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