The Ridiculous Shutdown, A President in Decline

The United States government and legislature have become paralyzed because the President is demanding Congress fund something he explicitly promised the American people we would never have to pay for. The President’s immigration ideas were rejected repeatedly by a GOP Congress these past two years. Not content with that, seeking in essence a legislative do-over, the President shuts the government down right before Christmas after agreeing not to. Both the Senate and House have passed bills which would re-open the government but fund DHS only through February so cooler heads could prevail and a deal on border policy could get worked out. Even this reasonable path, supported by both parties and both chambers, has been rejected by the President. Instead, he keeps the government shut down, causing real harm to the country.

And now the President’s ransom note is becoming clearer. $5.7b for more wall, $800m for detention facilities, controversial and potentially illegal changes in immigration law. He is asking for all this to be passed by Congress before reopening the government without going through regular order — no hearings, no studies, no debates, no votes. The letter and presentation the President sent to Congress justifying his demands was sophomoric, unpersuasive and reinforced how crazy his demands are. He has still NEVER EXPLAINED why more wall is needed — where would it go? Has flow increased in those areas? Has the border been penetrated in ways it wasn’t before? We don’t have answers to these simple questions. The legislative changes he is asking for are complicated, may violate both domestic and international law, and may be, in his hands, dangerous. Mad King George has returned to America after an absence of hundreds of years.

Mad King Trump (h/t Salon)

And please, the argument he is standing on principle and fighting to fill a campaign promise is absurd. His promise to all of us was clear — we would get a wall without paying for it, not by spending billions and billions of dollars. He is betraying his core promise, not keeping faith with it. And what makes his petulant demands even more galling is that he has used a worsening deficit as a reason to freeze the pay for federal workers next year. No modest increase in wages for workers, but billions for an unjustified wall.

What the President is asking for was rejected by a GOP Senate and was something he explicitly promised would never happen; his demands are controversial and unpopular, and has no back up explaining why what he is proposing will address what has become a crisis on the border through his current, deeply misguided immigration policies; he wants Congress to appropriate huge sums of money and make major legislative changes without going through the process we’ve used for hundreds of years to make decisions like this. What the President is asking for and doing is unreasonable and potentially precedent setting. If he succeeds at using these un-democratic/authoritarian methods to get his way what will stop him from doing it again and again? Democrats are right to play the issue the way they have — it would be reckless for them to give into the President at this point given how crazy he is acting.

The President is not winning the argument with the public. He made these issues central to his election argument and suffered one of the worst defeats of the modern era of American politics. He has dropped 3 points in the polls since early December, from -9 to -12. The economy is worsening, the market is way off and volatile, his tariffs are doing real material harm to the global and US economies, the President’s legal challenges are mounting and getting far more serious, and his foreign policy performance of late has been, frankly, scary. At this point, given all the real challenges in front of the President, the shutdown has become a reckless indulgence by a very vain and self-centered man, a diva sitting in their dressing room angry over not getting their way. His party needs to urge him to re-open the government and then bring his ideas about the border and immigration to Congress for a debate — like every other President has done throughout our history. His repeated insistence on creating mechanisms to go around Congress is undemocratic and must be opposed; this wild man must play by the rules and work within the system which has created the most powerful nation in the history of the world. This is not too much to ask and is, literally, what the Democrats are asking him to do right now.

Now that we have begun this debate about immigration, no matter how the standoff plays out, Democrats should be aggressively putting forth their vision for how they want to improve our border and immigration system. In a recent op-ed I offered a 3 part plan: 1) Convene a regional process to address the worsening conditions in Central America, 2) put comprehensive immigration reform back on the table, 3) offer ideas on how to best improve an immigration enforcement system weakened by the President’s failed policies. We cannot defend the immigration status quo — the President took a creaky immigration system and has broken it. We should step up and offer plans on how to best fix it now.

How this ends isn’t clear but what is clear is that this standoff is not about a wall. It is about ensuring we have a functioning democracy, and a President who plays by the rules established by our Founding Fathers a long time ago, rules which have indeed made this country great long before the Trumptrain arrived in Washington.



I run NDN/NPI, a DC think tank. Clinton & DNC alum, Tufts grad, Aspen Crown Fellow. Father of 3 great kids, truly lucky husband. Proud globalist.

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Simon Rosenberg

I run NDN/NPI, a DC think tank. Clinton & DNC alum, Tufts grad, Aspen Crown Fellow. Father of 3 great kids, truly lucky husband. Proud globalist.