Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a desperate plea Wednesday to President Trump. After more than a week of false starts and pullbacks on an immigration deal — and with a government shutdown looming on Friday — McConnell declared that it was time for Trump to indicate “what he is for,” once and for all.
On Thursday morning, Trump essentially told McConnell to shove it.
After White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that “we do support the short-term CR” with a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), but without an immigration deal, Trump appeared to take that back Thursday morning. In a tweet, he said he no longer wanted CHIP to be a part of the deal.
“CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!” Trump said.
The bill, with the White House's support, is due to be voted on in the House as soon as Thursday afternoon. As The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis writes, any changes could create a significant delay with just more than 36 hours left to avert the government shutdown that would begin at the end of the day Friday.
The tweet also complicates the GOP's strategy for winning vital Democratic support for the bill. Many Democrats have said they won't support a bill if it doesn't codify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that exempts young adults who were brought to the country illegally as children, which Trump ended last year and has been the centerpiece of a bipartisan immigration deal.
Republicans are clearly trying to use CHIP as leverage to pass the bill. If Democrats vote against it, they'll also be voting against a program that provides low-income children with health insurance — a troubling vote, especially for the vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection in red states.
Before Trump burned down that deal, he earned praise on Jan. 9 — even from some unlikely sources — for opening up a bipartisan White House meeting to cameras for nearly an hour. Despite that praise, though, Trump gave shifting accounts even in that meeting about what he wanted. At some points, he clearly indicated he would sign whatever deal Congress agreed to. At other points, he said the deal needed to fund the border wall.
Those shifting accounts have now proved to be the defining part of a still unresolved effort to keep the government open.
By the morning of Jan. 11, according to Sen. Lindsey O. Graham's (R-S.C.) account, Trump seemed to like the deal that had been reached, only to change his mind two hours later in that tense meeting in which Trump referred to “shithole countries.” At that same meeting, Trump also reportedly asked for $20 billion for the wall, while the administration had previously asked for $18 billion.
The whole thing has left even Republicans who are loyal to Trump openly speculating that he doesn't understand what's in the legislation Congress is considering. Here's Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) on Thursday morning:
That's probably the most charitable option, and it involves an American president being woefully uninformed about a vital piece of legislation that is less than 48 hours from its deadline. An alternative explanation is that Trump simply keeps changing his mind and/or doesn't really know what he wants.
Whatever the case, it's clear as day Trump isn't negotiating in good faith. And that's got congressional leaders understandably frustrated. If a shutdown happens now, Democrats' argument that it's the White House's fault just got a whole lot more compelling.
Update: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said at a press conference late Thursday morning that Trump assured him he still supported the short-term bill. "He fully supports passing this legislation," Ryan said, saying he had spoken to Trump after the tweet. It remains to be seen whether Trump will stick to that position.