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Donald Dossier: A Time to Cave

Donald Dossier: A Time to Cave

By Daniel Malloy and Sean Culligan


Because the shutdown is over, but shutdown politics are not.

By Daniel Malloy and Sean Culligan

The most important part of the cave is to not look like you’re caving.

In the Rose Garden on Friday, President Donald Trump announced an agreement to end the 35-day partial government shutdown, which he swiftly signed late Friday. The “deal” was, in effect, acceptance of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s terms: reopen the government, then start negotiations about border security. It’s almost identical to what the Senate passed unanimously in December before the revolt from conservative commentators that caused Trump to reverse course and demand $5.7 billion for a wall at the Mexican border.

A wind gust briefly lifted Trump’s notes off the podium, not that he needed them. The teleprompter read simply “[Talk About Human Trafficking],” according to a pool report, leading to Trump’s unscripted jag about women bound and gagged in cars, “narco-terrorists” crossing the border with ease and human trafficking rising “because of the internet.” The hope, it appeared, was to draw the usual TV outrage coverage and media “fact checks” generating more attention for his tough rhetoric on immigrants. Trump hoped that his base heard his lengthy defense of walls and his insistence that he would shut the government down again or declare a national emergency to build the wall if Congress doesn’t deliver something better by February 15.

It doesn’t appear to have worked. 

The George H.W. Bush example is unusually apt this week. In a particularly low moment for the media in 1992, Bush was ridiculed for being “amazed” by a supermarket scanner. It turned out that Bush was inspecting new technology that could scan ripped-up bar codes, but a massive media pile-on unfairly twisted the comment into an example of him being out of touch. (Something that surely could never happen today.)

On Thursday, Trump had a legitimately out-of-touch moment, saying “the grocery store” will “work along” with unpaid federal workers it knows will get paid soon, implying they can get free food just like they could delay mortgage payments. Trump offered this It’s a Wonderful Life vision of life for unpaid workers to clean up for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who had said he didn’t understand why Transportation Security Administration workers and others were resorting to food banks since they should be able to simply get loans. There was some truth here: Navy Federal Credit Union was offering 0 percent loans, and Bank of America was waiving cash advance fees on its credit cards for federal workers. But from the mouths of billionaires, the comments were as tone deaf as it gets.


It’s unclear what the final straw was that got Trump to cave — Friday’s arrest of Roger Stone in the Robert Mueller probe or the brief shutdown of LaGuardia AIrport owing to a lack of air traffic controllers? But the Marie Antoinette moments only compounded the political squeeze on Trump and increasingly antsy congressional Republicans.

Throughout this fiasco, Democrats were in the odd position of minimizing the practical effect of a wall, while refusing to spend a relatively small (in federal budget terms) amount on it. The bottom line? They could not afford to allow shutdowns to be weaponized. And, remarkably, Dems held together to enforce it.

So despite his Friday threats, it’s hard to imagine Trump going through with another shutdown in three weeks and expecting a different result. Perhaps Democrats will offer a fairly robust border security package that Trump could claim amounts to a wall and both sides could declare victory.

More likely? We get a rousing litany of immigrant crime anecdotes at the State of the Union — hallelujah, it’s back on — followed by a negotiation breakdown that leads Trump to declare a national emergency to divert funds to a border barrier, and this all goes to court.

But at least your prison guards, airport bag-scanners and food inspectors will be able to buy groceries.

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