Washington's new power play means shutdown won't end soon

Democrats will grab significant leverage against President Donald Trump when they claim the House of Represe...

Posted: Jan 4, 2019 6:30 AM
Updated: Jan 4, 2019 6:30 AM

Democrats will grab significant leverage against President Donald Trump when they claim the House of Representatives on Thursday in a historic reshuffling of Washington's balance of power.

But as they gear up to make life miserable for the White House, the first consequence of the new era of divided government will be to make a solution to the partial shutdown of federal agencies, now well into its second week, more elusive.

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The showdown between Trump and newly empowered Democrats will only end when both sides have an incentive to move.

Right now, all the political forces that could bring the two sides together are flowing in opposite directions, as the political significance of the moment suddenly raises the stakes in their showdown over funding for Trump's border wall.

Trump is refusing to water down his demand for $5 billion in funding for his border wall in return for agreeing on a federal funding package and appears to think he's winning the showdown.

The huge shift in power set to take place Thursday only solidifies the position of the Democrats against additional funding. Presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has zero desire to acquiesce to the President during her first hours with a gavel in hand. Her diverse caucus may yet disagree on much, but they appear in lockstep over opposing Trump on the wall.

Senate Republicans, who already voted once in the last Congress to keep government open, are on the sidelines having made clear they won't act on anything until a deal is reached that Trump will actually sign. And holiday season distractions meant that the misery of federal workers deprived of paychecks did not reach a critical mass that would force lawmakers to demand a swift resolution.

So, barring a miracle, the partial shutdown is not ending any time soon.

Senate Republican Majority leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday it could take "weeks" for government to reopen. Trump told reporters a resolution could take "a long time."

The President hardened his position in an extraordinary 95-minute exchange that rambled through topics as diverse as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and machine gun-wielding Secret Service officers.

Still mourning his canceled vacation in balmy Palm Beach, the President said he had hoped that Democrats would come back to town during his home alone Christmas to negotiate.

And he dug in on the $5 billion figure -- even after Vice President Mike Pence offered Democrats a $2.5 billion funding combination for border security and immigration funding late last year.

"No, not $2.5 billion, no. We're asking for $5.6 billion. And you know, if somebody said $2.5 billion, no," Trump said.

The political logic that prompted Trump to allow the government to close -- heavy pressure from conservative pundits and House lawmakers -- has not yet changed.

He's in no position to blink.

If he caves now, he will get the backlash he feared before, with extra intensity.

During a Situation Room meeting involving congressional leaders, Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, asked Trump three times why he could not accept a short-term extension of funding for the Department of Homeland Security while further negotiations take place.

"I would look foolish if I did that," Trump told Schumer, a person familiar with the conversation told CNN's Phil Mattingly.

Judging by a barrage of holiday season tweets, Trump thinks he can wound the new Democratic majority in the House -- both by overshadowing its big opening day and branding his rivals weak on immigration.

Apparently seeking to build pressure on Democrats, two senior administration officials told CNN's Jeremy Diamond that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the leaders: "This is not a status quo situation. We are in a crisis situation."

Democrats ready to wield power

Yet Democrats don't seem spooked by Trump's gambit.

In fact, the President's hardline rhetoric on immigration was blamed by many analysts on both sides of the political divide for the disastrous performance among suburban voters that cost the GOP its House majority.

Still, the wall was fundamental to Trump's appeal to his base, and helped win him the Republican nomination, so it's hardly surprising his calculations on the issue differ from those of outsiders.

Trump, who ran against the Washington establishment and believes there is a deep state conspiracy to thwart him, may also be impervious to the plight of federal workers.

"The President is not long on empathy," said Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania who often supports Trump and is now a CNN political analyst.

"I think he feels like he can weather this storm because he's not really concerned about the people calling him and saying 'I can't pay my bills' ... I think he feels like this is the issue he wants to set the template for how this Congress is going to work with the Democrats in charge," Santorum said.

Once Pelosi is sworn in for her second spell as House speaker, a step expected later Thursday, she plans to show that Democrats can offer stable, responsible government in contrast to the chaos of the Trump era.

That's why one of the first acts of the new Democratic House will be to pass a bill that would reopen the government in the short term and does not fund the wall -- essentially replicating a bill passed in the GOP-led Senate last year.

"We're asking the President to open up government. We are giving him a Republican path to do that. Why would he not do it? Why would he not do it?" Pelosi said at the White House on Wednesday.

The strategy lets Democrats make the case that they had power for a matter of hours and tried to reopen government.

Depriving Trump of funding for his wall -- the ultimate symbol of the Democratic Party's 2016 election humiliation -- also fosters unity in a coalition already showing ethnic, gender and generational fault lines.

As an added benefit, Democrats can also drive a wedge between the rival GOP centers of power in Washington and expose the tenuous relationship between Senate Republicans and their President.

Wednesday's events also suggest that Trump, who has spent his entire presidency cocooned by a GOP power monopoly in Washington, is yet to appreciate the new reality of divided government. He will no longer be able to activate a cell of conservatives Republicans to incite chaos in the House.

How the shutdown could end

McConnell is signaling that the House vote on reopening the government will not change much.

"One partisan vote in the House tomorrow is not going to solve anything. I made it clear to the Speaker we're not interested in show votes in the Senate," he said on Wednesday.

So far, there is no sign that Senate Republicans are maneuvering to offer Trump a face saving way out of what appears to be a dead end. In the past McConnell has been key to ending standoffs between various administrations and Capitol Hill.

Eventually, however, the shutdown may get resolved in the typical Washington way, with a fudge that offers both sides a way to claim victory.

It will come as no consolation to government workers who have been furloughed or who are working without pay that their plight has not yet dominated news coverage, as during is often the case in shutdowns.

But pictures are starting to emerge of overflowing garbage cans in Washington and closed national parks. Stories of deprivation among federal workers who live pay check to pay check are beginning to emerge.

Soon the real victims of the shutdown will begin inundating the offices of their Washington representatives with calls -- adding to political pressure for an end to the shutdown.

It's not as if there are no ideas for how to fix the situation that do not involve an abject climbdown by either side.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee published an op-ed in The Washington Post offering three approaches, including some already agreed in the past by bipartisan majorities.

Yet Trump's stream of consciousness in his press availability at the White House Wednesday was a reminder that he is a wild card, as impenetrable to his own side as to Democrats. He made up facts and offered no tell about what kind of fall back position he would accept.

That means that even if legislative linguists on Capitol Hill craft a way out for everyone, there is no guarantee that an unpredictable President, answering only to his gut, will buy it.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 313166

Reported Deaths: 7228
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21496257
Hinds20294414
Harrison17814309
Rankin13573278
Jackson13411246
Madison10066217
Lee9962173
Jones8364163
Forrest7649152
Lauderdale7181240
Lowndes6370145
Lamar621686
Lafayette6171118
Washington5323133
Bolivar4797132
Oktibbeha461498
Panola4561105
Pearl River4499145
Marshall4397103
Warren4380121
Pontotoc419572
Monroe4100133
Union409076
Neshoba4026176
Lincoln3950110
Hancock377786
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335790
Tate332484
Pike3301105
Scott315373
Alcorn311968
Yazoo310769
Itawamba299477
Copiah296465
Simpson294788
Coahoma294379
Tippah287768
Prentiss279560
Adams269582
Marion268880
Leake266273
Wayne262341
Grenada260386
Covington256381
George246848
Newton246061
Winston226881
Tishomingo225967
Jasper220848
Attala214173
Chickasaw207157
Holmes188673
Clay184754
Stone182033
Tallahatchie178140
Clarke177879
Calhoun170132
Yalobusha163337
Smith162234
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125938
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104826
Claiborne102230
Benton99125
Humphreys96133
Kemper95428
Franklin83623
Quitman80216
Choctaw76118
Wilkinson66930
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50317
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530988

Reported Deaths: 10978
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson765291522
Mobile40971804
Madison34751503
Tuscaloosa25775452
Montgomery24329589
Shelby23431249
Baldwin21131308
Lee15884171
Calhoun14501314
Morgan14293279
Etowah13831353
Marshall12222223
Houston10567281
Elmore10061205
Limestone9960151
Cullman9664193
St. Clair9655243
Lauderdale9424241
DeKalb8830186
Talladega8223176
Walker7235277
Autauga6920108
Jackson6810112
Blount6660137
Colbert6298134
Coffee5511119
Dale4831111
Russell441138
Chilton4290112
Franklin425782
Covington4121118
Tallapoosa4027152
Escambia393376
Chambers3563123
Dallas3551151
Clarke351061
Marion3118101
Pike310877
Lawrence300298
Winston274472
Bibb260764
Geneva249977
Marengo249764
Pickens234461
Barbour230857
Hale222977
Butler215969
Fayette212362
Henry188744
Cherokee184845
Randolph180241
Monroe177440
Washington167339
Macon159150
Clay156256
Crenshaw152257
Cleburne148941
Lamar142535
Lowndes138853
Wilcox127130
Bullock123041
Conecuh110529
Perry107726
Coosa107228
Sumter104532
Greene92334
Choctaw60624
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