President Trump says he’s willing to shut down the government if that’s what it takes to get the money to build his border wall.
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of ink on the possibility of a shutdown because, well, it’s not happening. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have made clear that they will not allow it. Trump is using the specter of a shutdown as leverage, but GOP leaders remember how they got blamed for the 2013 shutdown under Barack Obama, and that was with a Democrat in the White House.
The more fascinating development is this rift between Trump and McConnell, as well as other Republican senators, and whether that will undermine his effort to pass his agenda.
The president is back on the Twitter, saying this about the Senate majority leader: “The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed! That should NEVER have happened!”
It’s interesting that he frames this as McConnell’s failure. While the Kentucky senator bears plenty of responsibility, with only a two-vote margin in the chamber, he just couldn’t muster a majority for any of the versions backed by the White House.
Trump also tweeted: “I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval. They didn't do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!”
Well, it wouldn’t have been that easy. The argument over raising the debt ceiling is always whether it will be a “clean” bill. In Democratic administrations, many Republicans have demanded spending cuts as the price of avoiding a government default. Democrats were unlikely to roll over just because it was attached to a VA bill.
The bad blood between Trump and McConnell spilled into public view in a New York Times story saying the majority leader “has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.” The piece said Trump “berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match,” blamed McConnell for not protecting him from the Russia investigations, and that they hadn’t spoken for weeks.
Neither side commented, which means there was no attempt to tamp down the story.
Since then, the two leaders are trying to paper things over in public. A McConnell statement: “The president and I, and our teams, have been and continue to be in regular contact about our shared goals.”
A White House statement: “President Donald J. Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell remain united on many shared priorities, including middle class tax relief, strengthening the military, constructing a southern border wall, and other important issues.”
During this same period, Trump ramped up his feud with Arizona’s Republican senators, taking veiled shots at Jeff Flake and John McCain during his Phoenix rally, and later tweeting: “Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!”
These people don’t have to like each other to do business. That’s the nature of politics. And presidents sometimes have to strong-arm their own party.
But if Trump is going to get a tax cut and an infrastructure bill, he’s going to need every Republican vote he can get. In the end, you can only pass bills on the floor, not on Twitter.