Trump Government Shutdown

President Donald Trump walks to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, to announce a temporary deal to open the government.

That 35-day fiasco our country just endured? It’s squarely on President Donald Trump.

It was Trump who couldn’t get Congress to fund his border wall during two years of Republican control. It was Trump who reneged on an agreement late last year to keep government open into at least the beginning of 2019 without money for the wall, after conservative pundits called him on the carpet. And it was Trump who finally capitulated and agreed to the deal he’d previously rejected, when new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to budge.

All that said, the president couldn’t have done it on his own. Every single Republican member of Congress representing Louisiana helped.

For the state’s GOP House members, the moment of truth came in late December, with the clock ticking down on their majority.

The Senate passed a temporary spending measure, without including the wall, by voice vote. Trump indicated at the time that he’d sign it, and no senators — certainly not Bill Cassidy or John Kennedy — caused a fuss.

But then Trump withdrew his support and issued an ultimatum: No wall, no spending bill. Although House members knew it had no chance of winning 60 Senate votes, they included $5.7 billion for the project in their version of the bill, and all five Louisiana Republican House members — Steve Scalise, Garret Graves, Ralph Abraham, Clay Higgins and Mike Johnson — supported it. That vote is what led to the start of the shutdown.

Fast-forward to 2019. The now-Democratic-led House passed the same spending bill that the previous Senate had passed. But this time Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring it to a vote because Trump said he wouldn’t sign it.

This wasn’t his only alternative. He could have held the vote and challenged Trump to veto it. Instead, he delayed until last week, when he finally staged a show vote to show that the president’s position was weakening and told Trump that the line wouldn’t hold. Six Republican senators went on record that day on behalf of reopening the government. Neither Cassidy nor Kennedy was among them, although both had clearly been fine with the idea of keeping the government open, wall or no wall, weeks earlier. 

In the interim, the nation watched public employees seeking help from food and diaper banks, as clueless cabinet officials scratched their heads over the desperation. It saw air traffic and airport security controlled by people forced to work without getting paid. It heard from federal employees who had no idea when they would see paychecks, and low-wage contractors who knew they wouldn’t.

It witnessed research sidelined, including into hurricane forecasting. Ironically, it saw the backlog of immigration cases grow as judges were furloughed.

And it lost $3 billion in economic activity, according to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office.

Anyone out there up for more of that?

Certainly not the people who represent Louisiana, one would hope, even though the last time they adopted the party line, or stayed quiet, or in the case of the ever-quotable Kennedy, threw up his hands.

“You can have your own opinions about President Trump, but I think most fair-minded people would have to agree he’s a smart man,” Kennedy said. “And he’s not going to agree to open it back up and then have Speaker Pelosi say, ‘Thank you very much, you get nothing.’”

Uh-huh.

So now we’re at the point where all of this could happen again, and soon.

The government is open again for all of three weeks. Trump still wants his wall, which he’s turned into a symbol of ugly exclusion of people fleeing horrible circumstances. That has turned it into a symbol for the other side too, and has made giving in untenable. Besides, there’s no way the Democrats are going to cave after they decisively won Round One.

So the near-term question is whether there are other, non-wall border policies that both sides can accept. If not, we’ll be right back where we started, or perhaps on new terrain in which a president declares a national emergency as a political ploy.

Whatever happens, I hope our representatives are already thinking long and hard about where they’d draw the line — or whether they’re willing to enable still more of this foolishness.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.