Update: The shutdown likelihood has only ratcheted up in the days since Trump's comment. Here's the latest.
Even before President Trump reportedly lamented letting in immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti and El Salvador and African nations, a government shutdown next week over immigration was already a possibility.
Now, he may have made it even more likely.
Trump may have pushed Democrats into a corner with this one. A vote even on a short-term spending bill without protections for young undocumented immigrants could be interpreted by liberals as a capitulation to Trump, who just reminded the left exactly why they despise the president.
Even before the drama ratcheted up this week, Democratic congressional leaders had liberal protesters in their offices in December, upset that they didn't protect “dreamers” in a Christmas spending bill agreement.
“Maybe it increases pressure on Democratic leadership to be tough in negotiations, and that could snag things,” said Steve Bell, a former GOP Senate budget aide now with the Bipartisan Policy Institute.
“This is like throwing gasoline to the fire,” Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, told my Post colleagues, indicating just how willing already-skeptical Democrats are to negotiate with Trump.
Trump's divisive language may also signal where he's coming from on the immigration debate, said Molly Reynolds, a congressional expert with the Brookings Institution. If he's willing to so strongly disparage certain countries who could send immigrants here under a deal, then he might be willing to veto said deal over it.
Figuring out what Trump wants has been one of the biggest hurdles to an immigration deal. A dozen or so members of Congress sat down with Trump on Tuesday with the goal of figuring that out, only to leave confused. In the course of one meeting, he said he wanted a wall, then agreed to dreamer protections with no wall and then said he'd sign whatever bill Congress comes up with.
“It indicates that, contrary to what he said earlier in the week, he may not actually be willing to sign whatever Congress sends him on the issue,” Reynolds told The Fix in an email. “I would put that meeting yesterday in which he referred to 'shithole countries' in the category of things that could make a deal harder.”
Update: The shutdown likelihood has only racheted up in the days since Trump's comment. Here's the latest.
But overall, budget experts predicted Trump's comments probably won't move the needle too much on spending negotiations. “Trump's comment didn't reveal anything new about him to Democrats,” said Stan Collender, a nonpartisan budget expert and Forbes columnist. “If there's an effect, it will be on Republicans who now may be less inclined to support Trump.”
The biggest question on the table, say all three experts, is what Trump will do in the case of a spending bill/immigration showdown. Congress has proved surprisingly adept at pulling together a spending bill at the last minute, even one that doesn't change a dime from last year's spending levels.
But kind of like how Democrats might feel pressure to double down on dreamers, does Trump now feel like he needs to double down on border security because of his “tough” comments about immigration? Would he sign a spending bill without money for his wall? “Put it at 50-50,” Collender said.
Which means, according to Collender, it's 50-50 the government shuts down next week. And Trump may have just exacerbated those divisions.