Is Congress ready to avert government shutdown?

The Capitol (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House is set to pass a government-wide temporary spending bill to prevent a federal shutdown when the budget year ends Sept. 30.

The bipartisan measure would give lawmakers until the Thanksgiving break to pass and negotiate $1.4 trillion worth of annual agency spending bills. Those bills would fill in the details of this summer’s budget and debt agreement between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Thursday’s House vote comes as the Republican-controlled Senate struggles to process its versions of the follow-up spending bills amid partisan skirmishing over the boundaries of the budget agreement and Trump’s moves to pay for the U.S.-Mexico border fence without approval by Congress.

The Senate is likely to adopt the stopgap bill with plenty of time before the deadline.

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White House: Another government shutdown possible

Mick Mulvaney, acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and Director of the Office of Management, listens during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The White House is not ruling out another government shutdown, as lawmakers continue to negotiate funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

In Sunday talk show appearances on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and “Fox News Sunday,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said “you absolutely cannot” rule out the possibility that the government may shutter again on Friday. But Mulvaney also said that Trump was willing to explore funding alternatives.

The president has asked for $5.7 billion. Talks are centered around far less, around $1.6 billion. Mulvaney said that if Congress approves a lesser amount, Trump could make up the difference from elsewhere in the government or, if needed, the president could declare a national emergency.

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Schumer’s deadly flip-phone & Democratic resolve

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined at right by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., speaks to reporters asking about the threat of another government shutdown following their weekly strategy meeting. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The White House plan for peeling off Democrats to support President Donald Trump’s demands for billions in border wall money ran into a particularly stubborn obstacle: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s flip phone.

Schumer had already been talking with his colleagues for months, anticipating Trump’s fight. Soon after the midterm elections in early November, the New Yorker started doing what he does best, talking to his senators.

One by one, he dialed them on his vintage flip phone to gauge support for spending money on the wall with Mexico. He made a beeline for them across the Senate floor. He cornered them in the Senate gym. Most Democrats told him they were against it.

That unity buoyed Democrats during the just-concluded shutdown saga and is now girding them for the next tussle, with a second federal closure threatened by the White House.

While Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seized the starring role against Trump’s border wall, Schumer played no small part by helping shore up his side of the Capitol and bolstering Pelosi’s position.

It’s a strategy the Democrats will rely on as the next shutdown deadline, Feb. 15, nears, and as Senate Democrats use their minority status as leverage to align with Pelosi’s House majority on various fronts.

“If anything, our unity is stronger today than it was,” Schumer said Tuesday.

It was his most high profile role since taking on the leader’s position in 2017.

During Trump’s first two years, Senate Democrats held together to vote against the Republican tax plan, resulting in a partisan measure that has failed to gain widespread popular appeal. Democrats also denied Republicans the votes needed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, after dissent from the GOP ranks left Republicans without enough support.

Schumer has been praised, but also criticized, for not forcing his senators to fall in line the way past leaders have done. Liberals railed against him for failing to stop Brett Kavanaugh from being confirmed to the Supreme Court, even though only one Democrat voted for Trump’s nominee.

Schumer is proving to be a different kind of leader, nudging his caucus to hold together on big fights, but also cutting senators loose to vote as they wish at other times.

Last year, Schumer looked the other way as several Democrats supported a Republican banking bill that reversed some Democratic changes put in place after the Great Recession. This month, as soon as the shutdown ended, Schumer lifted the blockade on a GOP foreign policy bill supporting Israel that divided Democrats; their votes allowed it to easily advance.

Schumer is showing the strength that Senate Democrats can assert in the chamber where 60 votes are usually needed to advance legislation to support or thwart Trump’s agenda.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., a member of the leadership team, said Schumer has “an uncanny way to be able to listen” to the various views and end up with a position that “eventually everybody can feel OK with.”

Days after the Nov. 6 election when Democrats suffered defeats in the Senate, Schumer started dialing up Democrats about the border wall. Four colleagues from states where Trump is popular lost their elections. But without much prodding, senators were lining up against giving Trump the money he wanted, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

Senators had approved a border security package and saw no reason to spend more. Plus, Democrats had just won the House, strengthening their hand. By the time the White House thought about flipping Democrats, it was too late.

“It’s old the minds and hearts thing,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Schumer, he said, “knows the minds and hearts of his colleagues.”

Even in Virginia, where Sen. Tim Kaine represents thousands of federal workers who would eventually go without pay during the record 35-day shutdown, Democrats held firm.

“The issue that the president chose to battle on, he just picked an issue where every Democrat is completely unified,” Kaine said. “Our caucus just welded together.”

In the end, just one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted for the wall money. The White House didn’t even bother trying to call another potential Democratic vote, Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama.

Emboldened by their newfound leverage, Democrats are now looking at areas where they can unite against some policies and perhaps win some GOP support on issues such as prescription drug prices, administration oversight or protecting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The night before a pivotal White House meeting in December, when the shutdown was a possibility but not yet reality. Schumer and Pelosi discussed strategy. They couldn’t have imagined what would come next.

With the television cameras rolling, Trump said in an exchange with Schumer that he would “take the mantle” and own the shutdown. Schumer can be seen trying to hold back a smile.

A short while later Schumer arrived back at the Capitol for a private lunch with Democratic senators. They, too, were stunned.

The shutdown would drag for more than a month, but for Senate Democrats the new Congress was just beginning.

“It reinforced a lot of our steadfastness and resolve,” said Blumenthal, and “trust in our values and in the American people to see through Trump’s bullying and bluster.”

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Trump should avoid another government shutdown

President Donald Trump waves as he walks through the Colonnade from the Oval Office of the White House on arrival to announce a deal to temporarily reopen the government. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Donald Trump learned over the past month a valuable Washington lesson that old-timers like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell learned long ago: Shutdowns never work.

After beating a retreat and agreeing last week to end the shutdown on Pelosi’s terms — with no money for his oft-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall — it’s difficult to imagine Trump getting anywhere near his $5.7 billion demand for wall funding in an upcoming round of negotiations. And it would seem unlikely that Trump would attempt another shutdown strategy after the last one blew up in his face. Capitol Hill Republicans, especially in the Senate, have little appetite for a reprise.

With the government funded for three weeks, it’s up to a group of House and Senate negotiators from the powerful Appropriations Committee to try to iron out a deal under the close watch of top leaders including Pelosi, McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Pelosi, D-Calif., was a longtime member of the panel before rising into leadership, and McConnell, R-Ky., still sits on it. Both of them know how to cut a deal.

But the talks, set to begin Wednesday, will be centered on the polarizing question of what border security projects should be funded in a package for Homeland Security. For both parties, as well as the hundreds of thousands of federal workers returning Monday from unpaid furloughs, there is no guarantee of an easy resolution.

“In the past, when the president has stayed out of it, when the president has given Congress room, we have been repeatedly able to forge bipartisan agreements, including two budget agreements. When the president injects maximalist partisan demands into the process, negotiations tend to fall apart,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday.

Trump himself is pessimistic about a deal and says he likely won’t accept less than his $5.7 billion demand. Adding a bigger immigration deal such as protection for so-called Dreamer immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children is a long shot as well, Trump told The Wall St. Journal in an interview Sunday.

“If everybody could leave the thing to the appropriators and let them cut the deal … then yeah, you could end this. At this point, I’m not confident that that could happen,” said Hazen Marshall, a lobbyist who left McConnell’s staff last month. “I don’t think it’s good enough for the president, and I think it would remain too much for Pelosi.”

With prospects of a deal so iffy, the White House is considering using emergency powers to declare a national emergency and arbitrarily shift billions of dollars from disaster aid or other accounts into border security. That raises the possibility that Trump might sign a catchall government funding bill that shortchanges his wall request and immediately grab some or all of the funding anyway.

“The best fix is to be able to do it legislatively,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday. But, she added, “If Congress doesn’t do their job, then the president will be forced to make up for all their shortcomings.”

While issuing an emergency declaration would likely draw pushback from Trump’s own party, it would bow to the reality about shutdowns: The folks who start them invariably lose.

In the 1990s, Pelosi and McConnell watched House Speaker Newt Gingrich take a political beating at the hands of President Bill Clinton after starting two futile shutdowns to try to force Clinton to balance the budget. Almost two decades passed without another shutdown.

In 2013, GOP conservative hard-liners tried a futile shutdown strategy to try to “defund” President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, only to come away with nothing. And just last year, Democrats were on the losing side when sparking a brief shutdown over protecting “Dreamer” immigrants — a move easily quashed by Trump and McConnell.

The fundamental flaw in a shutdown strategy is simple: It’s usually obvious who’s responsible, and that side carries less leverage into the fight because the public awards them the blame. It’s difficult to shift blame to the other side when one’s opponent simply asks to reopen the government.

In this case, opinion polls were decisive. Only 34 percent of Americans approved of Trump’s job performance in a survey released last week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research — down from 42 percent a month earlier.

What is also true about shutdowns is that the party that is held responsible for starting them tends to become more splintered and disunified as time passes. Vice President Mike Pence got an earful at a lunch of unhappy Senate Republicans last Thursday, and several Republicans split from Trump in a vote afterward.

Pelosi, meanwhile, did what any congressional leader would have done in her situation. Seeing public opinion solidly behind Democrats and watching Trump’s approval rating sink, she held firm, insisting that Trump reopen the government before having talks about border security.

Trump could never shake the fact that he had sparked the shutdown, so making demands while suffering among federal workers worsened and problems from the shutdown grew more severe —such as Friday’s partial closure of New York City’s LaGuardia Airport— eventually proved unsustainable.

“I don’t think shutdowns are good leverage,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “It’s a lesson I’ve certainly learned in my time here.”

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Trump to escalate fight for wall to the end

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump has shown he is unable to compromise. He has reacted to the past week’s defeats at the hands of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats with what can only be called a rage attack.

He laid down the gauntlet in his Wall Street Journal interview on Sunday making it clear that he anticipates the Democrats holding firm on refusal to fund his wall. He told the Journal that he thinks the chances of a new deal being reached before the government shuts down again because of lack of funding in less than three weeks are “less than 50-50” and he kept the possibility of initiating another shutdown open. He is threatening to use emergency powers to build the wall if all else fails.

There seems to be some doubt in his mind about how far he is willing to go in order to have his full demands met indicating he isn’t sure he’d accept less than $5.7 billion for the wall, and also doubting that he’d open a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers and those here on Temporary Protected Status.

He’s still not exactly sure what kind of structure he wants at the border telling the Journal “I have to see what it is. As long as it can stop criminals, gangs, human trafficking and drugs, I’m open to anything. But the only thing that will work is a very strong form of physical barrier.”

Trump is insisting on a wall. Nancy Pelosi is insisting that the Democrats will not fund the wall. There is no way out for Trump except compromise and that would mean defeat for him.

It is not difficult to predict what Trump will do and how he will do it. He has been humiliated by the Speaker of the House, who he insults by calling her by her first name. Nancy not only a woman’s name but a name it can’t be lost on Trump is also used pejorative to refer to an effeminate man.

I’d like to believe that Trump will not shut down the government again because he’s already tried that and it didn’t lead to him achieving his goals. The only reason I could see this angry vengeful man doing this is because relishes demonstrating what he sees as his personal power, not mind you the power of the presidency. He may want to exercise it any way he can and damn the consequences of the negative publicity.

Another shutdown will hurt a few million people but we know the president doesn’t have an iota of empathy.

My hunch is that he will declare a national emergency and declare victory.


What else might Trump do as he proves his prowess by using the powers of the presidency? This article In Foreign Policy is not reassuring: Trump Can’t Do That. Can He? On NATO withdrawal and other issues, it turns out presidential powers are constrained by norms but not laws.

If U.S. President Donald Trump decides to withdraw from NATO tomorrow, Congress might be unable to stop him.

That’s the conclusion a group of top lawmakers and some legal experts have reached, as Trump over the past two years has repeatedly bashed the alliance and extended olive branches to Russian President Vladimir Putin—even while his administration has taken some steps to support NATO.

The legal assessment is particularly worrying for some Democratic lawmakers in the wake of a New York Times report revealing that Trump had privately discussed leaving NATO. And it reflects a broader challenge that the Trump presidency poses on a number of issues, including trade policy, international treaties, and clean governance: The guardrails that curb a president’s powers are often traditions and norms but not actual laws.

An opinion piece by The Editorial Board in today’s New York Times doesn’t lead one to be optimistic either.  Saving NATO: The House voted overwhelmingly to block President Trump’s threat to quit the Atlantic alliance. The Senate should promptly follow suit.

It seems obvious that leaving NATO would be a foreign policy debacle, eroding American influence in Europe and emboldening Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, who wants to weaken NATO so he can expand his political and military sway.

Despite all that, there is no sign that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, would stop such a move if Mr. Trump were to make it, as he has repeatedly threatened to do.

Mr. Trump’s own skepticism has long been apparent. He has questioned the alliance’s purpose and hectored the allies to pay more for defense. Spending has risen, but it also rose under Mr. Trump’s predecessors, who urged greater military spending but never wavered in their commitment to NATO.

Now the threat is growing: Several times last year, the president privately told senior administration officials that he wanted to withdraw from NATO, viewing it as a drain on the United States.

Lashing out in rage the beleagued challenged and thwarted narcissist could be prompted by editorials such as this in the hated New York Times and could push Trump to let the chips fall where they may and withdraw from NATO.


UPDATE Jan 26 9PM:  Another distraction, and opportunity for Trump to flex his muscles and play superman has been foretold by an amazing demostration of ineptitude by John Bolton. A photo of him holding a notepad saying “Afghanistan -> Welcome the Talks. 5,000 troops to Colombia.” is circulating on Twitter. Read story.

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