US Government Shutdown: Democrats Refuse to Back Down

Spearhead Analysis – 09.01.2019

By Syed Murtaza Zaidi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

On June 16, 2015, a press conference was called at the Trump Towers in Manhattan. The consensus among the press members was that, after years of deliberation, Donald Trump, the popular property developer and reality television star, would be announcing his presidency for the upcoming Presidential elections. While the majority of the people in the media and politics expected the Trump campaign to be nothing more than a distraction from the actual presidential campaign, and mostly treated his subsequent announcement in the same vein, Trump quite brilliantly found a way to make the news almost instantly.

Not only did he attack the existing status quo in American politics, especially the reign of Barack Obama, he went one step further and blamed most of the US’s many failings on immigrants, more specifically those coming from across the border from Mexico. He claimed that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”. He then went on to promise that his solution to curb immigration would be to “build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

These words became the mantra for the Trump campaign over the next few months, as one after the other, all of his opponents dropped out of the Presidential race, leaving him to claim a historic victory in the end. While many argue that Trump just used an anti-immigration rhetoric to gain traction in the media, and to appeal to the large and influential demographic of disenfranchised white people in the country, others argue that he was just expressing his own, purely white supremacist beliefs. Irrespective of his intentions, the promise of curbing Mexican and Muslim immigration by building a wall on the almost 2000-mile-long border between Mexico and the US became one of his major promises, and as soon as he was sworn in as the President, Trump vowed to start work on his border wall without any delays.

Yet, over two years later, there has been no progress on a border wall, nor has Mexico come even remotely close to agreeing to pay for one. The ban on certain Muslim majority countries also got overturned by the courts, and this has been a contentious issue for many Trump supporters who have criticized the current President for ignoring campaign promises. With another election cycle approaching soon, rising divisions within the senate and the Republican Party, and the impending Muller report reaching its logical conclusion, it seems that there is a fear in the Trump camp that they may be losing key supporters by ignoring the issue of immigration. So, the President decided to take decisive action.

The Shutdown

Early in 2018, President Trump demanded that Congress approve of a $5.6 billion fund for his promised border wall. Even though the Republican Party at the time controlled both houses, they were unable to pass the required legislation without the support of the Democrats, who deem the wall immoral, ineffective and expensive. While attempts were made to come to a mutually beneficial agreement, both parties could not agree on the new federal spending legislation that needed to be passed before the previous spending expired on December 21. 

In a last ditch attempt to avoid an impending government shutdown, Trump even invited Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to the White House to debate the subject in front of the media. However, as both parties were reluctant to back down from their demands, the meeting ended in an impasse. Trump maintained his defiant stance on the subject of border control and, after a particularly tense exchange with Senator Schumer said “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals, and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country.” He added that he was prepared to take up the mantle to be the one to shut the government down and that “I’m going to shut it down for border security.”

Both Pelosi and Schumer, along with a sizable contingent of Democrats, have visited the White House a few times since the government shutdown began on December 22. However, no real progress has been made so far, with the situation seemingly worsening with each meeting. After one meeting, Senator Schumer told the gathered media of one instant when he asked President Trump for one good reason why the shutdown needed to continue. According to Schumer, “He (Trump) could not give a good answer” and it later emerged that some sources even recorded Trump saying that his primary reason for continuing with the current state of affairs was because he was afraid he would “look foolish”.

Schumer added that “We told the president we needed the government open. He resisted. In fact, he said he would keep it closed for a very long period of time, months or even years. It’s very hard to see how progress will be made unless they open up the government.” Speaker Pelosi’s assessment was even bleaker, after she remarked after one meeting that “our (Democrats) purpose in the meeting at the White House was to open up government. The impression you get from the president is that he would like to not only close government, build a wall, but also abolish Congress, so the only voice that mattered was his own.”

Throughout the shutdown, what has been most surprising is that the majority of the Republican Party has mostly stood by President Trump’s decision, with Senator Lindsey Graham telling reporters that “the goal is not to open up the government, it is to fix a broken immigration system to bring reality to this table” and that “it’s pretty clear that we’re never going to have a deal, unless we get a wall as part of it.” He also warned that if Donald Trump was to give in to the demands of the Democrats then that would be “the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president”. He added that it would “probably be the end of his presidency. Donald Trump has made a promise to the American people. He’s going to secure our border” and that “that’s the end of us if we give in on this issue as Republicans.”

For his part, President Trump has so far shown no signs of changing his current position. In fact, in a press conference last week, he reiterated his demands for a border wall, and even fielded questions about his rumored desire to declare a national emergency to fulfill his objectives. Regrettably, his answer did nothing to stem these rumors and instead flamed them even further. “We can call a national emergency because of the security of our country, absolutely” he said. “I haven’t done it. I may do it. We could call a national emergency and build it (the wall) very quickly, and it’s another way of doing it. But if we can do it through a negotiated process, we’re giving that a shot.”

Ramifications

A government shutdown entails exactly what the name implies; that day to day government functions cease to a halt. This is why it is not surprising that the US economy has seen dramatic losses in the recent days, while hundreds of thousands of federal employees have been either forced to work on a temporary basis without pay, or have been put on extended leave. Many services related to the Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury departments have completely stopped, affecting millions of people across the country.

The US government shutdown is now in its third week and there seems to be no respite in sight for the American population. It is now the third longest running shutdown in US history, and the current situation is quite ironic, especially considering the flack that Barack Obama had to take from Republicans, and in particular Donald Trump, for the 2013 government shutdown over Obamacare.

Having seen Obama’s reputation suffer during his own government’s shutdown, it is surprising that the Republicans don’t seem more willing to resolve this situation quickly, particularly when Trump’s popularity has been waning in recent months. Curiously, it is not only the liberal community who have turned against the current US President, with many of his ardent conservative supporters also upset with his performance to date.

Having already lost a sizable number of seats during the mid-term elections, and with the next general elections right around the corner, the Republican Party, and Donald Trump’s camp cannot afford any more mistakes. While the current shutdown seems to have stemmed from this same conclusion, they just need to make sure that in their attempt to appease voters, they don’t instead continue to further alienate them. Otherwise, come 2020, they might find that convincing the US public to place their trust in Donald Trump once again, may not be as easy as last time. 

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