Does President Trump actually want a government shutdown this weekend? Does he want to take some time off to golf? Or does he just enjoy making Republican Congressional leaders look like fools? These are the questions everyone is asking this morning as yet another Trump tweet caught political leaders off guard.
Maneuvering in a way his fans will no doubt describe as brilliant, three-dimensional chess and his critics will dismiss as a penchant for chaos, the president roiled Congressional negotiations to avert a looming government shutdown Thursday morning by tweeting that an extension of the lapsed Children’s Insurance Program should be decoupled from the short-term budget measure.
The move seemed to undermine House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who were dangling an extension of the popular program–known as CHIP–in exchange for Democratic votes to keep the government funded, avoiding a shutdown. In recent history, shutdowns have almost always backfired politically on Republicans, and Ryan and McConnell seem eager to avoid a repeat–perhaps fearing that voters will assign blame for any shutdown to the party that controls both houses of Congress and ostensibly the White House.
Though progressives are eager to extend the CHIP program, Democrats in Congress have been pushing to resolve the status of “dreamers”–undocumented people who came to America as children–in exchange for votes to fund the government.
Ryan and McConnell had been making the case that CHIP was a good enough incentive. “[Democrats] claim they don’t want to shut down the government, so it seems to me it would be a rather attractive package,” McConnell said.
The White House expressed support for the CHIP extension Wednesday. But if McConnell, Ryan, et al thought the president’s backing was set in stone, they were mistaken. Cue the President’s Twitter:
CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
“Why the president suddenly undercut Republican arguments was not immediately clear,” the Times observed.
One possibility is that Trump believes he can effectively blame a government shutdown on Democrats and relishes the fight. Another possibility is that he has changed his mind (again) on an immigration deal, and is kneecapping Congressional Republicans in order to get them to bend on the Graham-Durbin plan he helped to scuttle earlier this week. A third possibility, of course, is that he’s not particularly attuned to the details of the negotiations in Congress and just said something that sounded sort of tough.
It will now be left to the Republican leadership in Congress to figure out how to salvage a stopgap spending measure–and if that’s even the outcome the White House truly wants.