Just when we thought the 115th Congress was coming to a close by scraping together one more continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown, President Donald Trump decided to turn up the drama by throwing one more temper tantrum over his desired border wall. So instead of allowing America to settle down and celebrate the winter holidays, we remain on edge as Trump insists on one more vainglorious PR stunt.
Was I wrong all along? I doubt it, but we’ll know for sure tonight.
On Wednesday, it appeared as if Republican leaders were succumbing to reality and reaching for the lowest common denominator of another continuing resolution (or short-term spending bill) to avoid an embarrassing partial government shutdown over the winter holidays. But thanks to Trump getting frustrated over his far-right nativist base getting frustrated with his failure to “Build The Wall!” (so much so that some Trump supporters are donating to a GoFundMe page to raise private dollars for “The Wall”), he and the House Republican Freedom Caucus have revived what seemed to be a settled issue.
Late last night, the House voted 217-185 (mostly along party lines, though with eight Republicans voting with all Democrats against) to advance a spending bill that includes Trump’s desired $5 billion in border wall funding. This came just a day after the Senate unanimously approved by voice vote the continuing resolution with no border wall funding. So now, Trump has successfully forced Congress to figure out what to do with his border wall fantasy.
However, there’s a catch: Republicans don’t have the votes to actually pass any kind of budget with funding for Trump’s desired border wall. Last week, House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-California) dared Trump to find the votes to fund his wall. The events of the past 24 hours feel like Trump’s attempt to call Pelosi’s bluff. But in reality, it’s still Pelosi calling Trump’s bluff. Even if Trump and outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) scrape together just enough Republican votes to give Trump what he wants, both Ryan and Pelosi know that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) doesn’t have the votes in that chamber to follow suit, hence his relatively quick concession in that chamber.
Even should Trump’s gambit fail (it likely will), it’s still his successful deployment of another weapon of mass distraction.
There’s no coincidence that this is happening now. Just as the House was (once again) spiraling into chaos, the White House was trying to put a positive spin to its never-ending chaos. With Defense Secretary James Mattis becoming the latest Cabinet official to head for the exits, confusion over Trump’s sudden move to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and Syria, ongoing fear and loathing surrounding the investigation into Russian interference in American elections (and how deeply connected Trump may be to it), and a ferocious Wall Street selloff that’s been triggered by growing fears of imminent recession, Trump is yet again being buried by a mountain of unflattering headlines.
Think about it this way: During the 2016 campaign, Trump often changed the subject to keep his base excited, keep the media scrambling, and keep the larger voting public confused. In a White House that’s essentially been in a perpetual state of campaigning, that practice remains very much in place. By keeping a government shutdown on the table and keeping his base excited about “The Wall” that will likely never happen, Trump is trying to keep us off the trail and away from all these (other) unflattering headlines.
So here we are, talking about Trump and his visions of border wall dancing in his head. This isn’t a coincidence. This is the debasing of American democracy. And if Congressional Republican leaders truly want to put an end to this shutdown shitshow, all they have to do is remind the country how Congress can override presidential vetoes.