Why you should care
Because the longer this shutdown goes, the more surprising bits of damage we’ll find.
The North Pole is moving. The magnetic dot where your compass points has been creeping along the top of the world at a rate of about 30 miles per year, because of complex geologic forces churning in the earth’s core. It’s been moving fast enough that the U.S. military requested an early update to the World Magnetic Model, which helps guide everything from aircraft carriers to your smartphone.
As the journal Nature reported, the update was supposed to happen Jan. 15. But with the Commerce Department shuttered due to the partial government shutdown, it’s on hold. No wonder Washington seems disoriented.
No one can seem to navigate their way out of this monthlong shutdown, now by far the longest in history. Yet Saturday nearly offered signs of a thaw. President Donald Trump hyped a special White House announcement, and details spread through the press: Trump would link $5.7 billion for his wall to a new three-year protection for immigrants who came illegally as children and are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump has tried to eliminate. The deal also would extend protections for immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from countries that have been hit by war and natural disaster, such as Sudan and El Salvador, another program Trump has sought to eliminate.
So how does this end? This week’s action in the Senate will tell us a lot.
Before Trump could even go on TV to make the offer, House Democrats rejected it, saying they had not been consulted and had rejected similar deals in the past. They objected to the wall, and the lack of a permanent solution for the “Dreamers.” They again sought for Trump to open the government before continuing immigration negotiations, which he’s refused to do.
“This is a common-sense compromise both parties should embrace,” Trump said in the Roosevelt Room.
The big news here is the re-emergence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who reportedly helped devise this deal, as Trump and Pelosi are dug in so far they can’t see out of their foxholes. Last week was the two principals’ “terse letter” phase. First, Pelosi took the extraordinary step of all but disinviting Trump from giving the State of the Union on Jan. 29, saying that due to security concerns they should find another date — or he could submit it in writing, Thomas Jefferson style.
Trump struck back by canceling Pelosi’s planned trip to Afghanistan, along with other top Democrats, grounding their military jet shortly before it was to depart. The lawmakers attempted to fly commercial, but Pelosi said they were rebuffed because the White House leaked their plans and it became a security risk. (The New York Times corroborated the leak.)
So how does this end? This week’s action in the Senate will tell us a lot. House Democrats have drawn their line in the sand, but this offer from Trump is designed to entice moderate Democrats to vote for it. Still, some Senate Republicans could well consider it “amnesty” and refuse to play ball.
The formula here — some sort of exchange of wall money for Democratic immigration wins — has been the long-speculated way out of this mess, even if this package is not enough for Dems. Pressure for a solution is rising from multiple corners. There’s the sad vision of federal employees lining up for food banks because they aren’t getting paychecks. Airport security lines are bonkers. Bad polling numbers are pounding the White House. And there’s Trump’s craving for more global stagecraft. On Friday, Trump revealed that he will meet with Kim Jong Un for a second time in late February to discuss the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal. Can another flag-bedecked summit possibly go forward with a shutdown on?
Then again, the shutdown is a distraction from the burbling Robert Mueller investigation. The end of the week brought us the remarkable seesaw conversation around a Buzzfeed News bombshell alleging that Trump ordered attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a deal they were trying to strike for Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 campaign. The special counsel’s office responded with a highly unusual non-specific denial of the story, leading Trump to declare victory, and putting a slight damper on impeachment talk for the time being.
It only makes sense, then, that the shutdown has delayed the update of the World Magnetic Model. The magnetic pole has left Canada and is headed where all roads lead these days: Russia.