President Trump on Tuesday called for a government shutdown later this year and suggested the Senate might need to prohibit future filibusters, threatening to fracture Washington’s basic underpinnings to make progress on his legislative goals.
His latest outbursts — no sitting president has called for the government to be shut down like this — could cast a shadow over how Congress approaches numerous bills this year. Trump wants Congress to overhaul the tax code, approve a $1 trillion infrastructure package and raise or suspend the debt ceiling before the government begins falling behind on its obligations.
He has made little legislative progress in any of these areas, and he is on the verge of being dealt another stinging defeat as House Republicans splinter on a health-care bill for the second time in recent weeks. Trump’s new threats suggest he will jettison attempts at compromise and instead use the bombastic partisan warfare he employed during his campaign.
The threats come after White House officials said they were furious at what they viewed as gloating by Democrats over the terms of a short-term spending bill that funds government operations through Sept. 30. In morning Twitter posts, Trump said he had to make concessions because Senate rules require 60 votes to pass legislation and Republicans control only 52 seats in the 100-seat chamber.
He wrote that Republicans needed to pick up more seats in the 2018 midterm elections or consider changing filibuster rules so that the Senate’s minority party cannot block bills.
“Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” he wrote.
Trump could easily trigger a partial government shutdown in October, by directing Republicans not to negotiate with Democrats or by refusing to sign a spending bill that Congress sends him for approval.
White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Tuesday that Congress needs to return to the practice of passing one-year appropriations bills and sending them to the White House for approval, not continuing the recent practice of lurching from one stopgap spending bill to the next.
“This is a change-agent president, and he’s going to change Washington, D.C.,” Mulvaney said. “And if it takes a shutdown, that’s what it’s going to take.”
Mulvaney added, though, that a shutdown was not “desirable,” seeming to break with the president.
Mulvaney plans to release a full-scale budget in mid-May that is supposed to help lawmakers craft their 2018 budgets. He said he wants work on those spending bills to begin immediately.
Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University, said Trump’s threat of a shutdown was “totally, totally, totally” unprecedented.
He said the threat, coupled with talk of changing filibuster rules, was typical of Trump’s approach.
“Really what he’s talking about is destroying congressional procedures to get his way,” Naftali said. “When he’s losing, he likes to flip the game board.”
The White House did win numerous concessions during the recent negotiations with Congress over the stopgap spending bill. Democrats agreed, for example, to $1.5 billion in new money for border security and roughly $21 billion in new defense spending, two of Trump’s top priorities. But, Mulvaney said, Democrats tried to “spike the football” because they blocked new funding for a wall along the Mexico border.
Despite the White House’s frustration, Trump’s suggestion that spending bills should be able to pass with a simple majority was quickly dismissed by numerous top Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
And Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was “deeply disappointed” in Trump’s calls for a shutdown.
“It is truly a shame that the president is degrading it because he didn’t get 100 percent of what he wanted,” Schumer said. He went on to quote a Rolling Stones song to make his point, adding, “You can’t always get what you want.”
Trump’s attacks Tuesday illustrate how he continues to take a defiant stand with Congress more than 100 days after taking office.
Top White House officials are hopeful that he can reach a deal with lawmakers to overhaul the tax code later this year, but budget rules will make that difficult without Democratic support. Democrats have so shown no willingness to accept the large-scale tax cuts that Trump proposed last week, imperiling another of his campaign promises.
Sensing how difficult it is to cobble together legislative support, Trump in recent weeks has openly floated numerous approaches to build a political coalition. He has said he wants to package his tax plan with his infrastructure plan, package his health-care plan with his infrastructure plan, pursue his health-care plan first, pursue his tax plan first, and pursue them separately but at the same time.
The last government shutdown, in 2013 when Republicans controlled Congress, lasted more than two weeks. During that partial shutdown, the Obama administration said that at one point 850,000 federal employees were placed on “furlough,” or leave without pay. Many other federal employees continued to work but were not paid until the shutdown ended. In total, the furloughs accounted for 6.6 million days of lost work. The lost productivity cost the government $2 billion, the Obama White House said at the time.
Diplomatic meetings were canceled, and U.S. officials largely stopped traveling to conferences and events across the country. The processing of tax returns slowed, and many agencies begin operating with much smaller staffs.
Many government functions, such as law enforcement and national security, continued, but national parks closed and economists say there was a sizable impact on the economy, particularly in the Washington area.
Once government shutdowns end, the federal employees are typically repaid for the time they were on furlough.
Many lawmakers from both parties agree that the way the government funds its operations is broken and does not allow agencies to plan or prioritize. But the stopgap system has remained in place because lawmakers have a hard time agreeing on spending levels for different programs. Steve Bell, a Republican former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, said Trump’s call to shut down the government over the problem was merited and could lead to a breakthrough.
“I don’t know anything other than a really dramatic statement that could fix this,” he said.
But Republican Judd Gregg, a former senator from New Hampshire, said Trump was finally coming to grips with the major differences between finding success in Washington compared with the business world.
“I get the sense they are beginning to realize this isn’t like building a building or opening a golf course,” Gregg said of the White House. “This is high politics, not high-rise buildings, and the process is entirely different. The motivation is entirely different.”
Former senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota and like Gregg an ex-chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said Trump’s call for a shutdown shows how he refuses to adjust to his role as president.
“We really need a president to reach higher and to set a positive tone of responsible leadership,” Conrad said. “That’s what the country desperately needs.”