1. All of this is happening on his watch: This is the first shutdown with one party controlling all of Washington. (The first that leads to federal government employee furloughs.) To put that another way: Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, so how could Trump not get some of the blame for a shutdown? He's (ostensibly) in control of his party.
A politically potent symbol to drive home that point: The government shut down on the first anniversary of his presidency.
When you layer on what Trump has said about shutdowns, it is fair to wonder if Trump actually wanted one, or at least is okay with one if it happens. My colleagues reported in November he told confidants a shutdown could be good for him politically; a chance to flex his hard-line muscles on immigration. He's also tweeted stuff like this:
The president's aides said Friday that Trump was instrumental in bringing conservative House Republicans on board with the spending bill, and that he was “actively working ” to prevent a shutdown. He invited Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to the White House on Friday to talk about a deal.
But the way Schumer tells it, Trump didn't really have any intention of making one. Schumer said Saturday he "even put a border wall on the table," suggesting Trump could get money for the U.S.-Mexico border wall in exchange for keeping the government open. But Schumer said Saturday that Trump rejected that deal, the second bipartisan immigration deal in a week he's rejected.
2. No one in Washington seems to know what he wants: So, wait, if the president said in private he would be okay with a shutdown, but in public decried one, what did he actually want?
That is a mystery to even his allies in Congress. This week, Trump cast doubt on whether he would sign a short-term spending bill to keep the government's lights on for another month, hours after his spokeswoman said he would. Hours before a precarious vote in the House of Representatives to avoid such a scenario, Trump pulled the rug out from under GOP leaders by seeming to take away their only leverage to get Democrats on board: funding the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Trump also pushed back on his chief of staff's statements by suggesting he had not backed off the notion of a border wall covering most of the 2,000 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border.
3. He torpedoed a deal on immigration right when it mattered most: Trump has also been extraordinarily inconsistent on what he wants on an issue that is impossible to separate from this shutdown: preventing the deportation of immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, known as “dreamers.”
He ended the Obama-era dreamer protections in September, tossing it to Congress to fix. Then he switched his position several times on whether he wanted Congress to find a permanent solution and/or what he wanted in exchange for it. (A border wall? Would a fence be okay? Ending the visa lottery program?)
Senators came up with a bipartisan deal they thought he could support. It included some money for a barrier on the border. In phone calls earlier in the day, these senators thought he was on board. When they went to the White House to present the deal, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told the New York Times he found Trump almost automatically opposed to any deal.
Then the president reportedly asked why the deal had to let in people from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations, and then you-know-what really hit the fan.
4. “Shithole countries”: With two words, Trump caused an international stir and made it much more difficult for Democrats to negotiate with the president on even the shortest of spending deals. Their base was already frustrated Democrats did not extract dreamer protections in a December spending deal.
Suddenly, 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.
And here we are Saturday morning, nearly 12 hours into a shutdown. My Capitol Hill colleagues report that Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has been trying to secure a deal on a vote for dreamers and a vote to keep the government open through February, but he's doing all of it by working around Trump rather than with him.
"At this point, we agree we can’t wait for the White House anymore," Flake said.
This isn't to say Trump is the only one who will get blamed for this shutdown. Republicans have spent the past few days casting Democrats as the villains. They are willing to vote against a spending bill over an unrelated issue, immigration.
Josh Holmes, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), points to recent history to make the case that Democrats are the ones to blame: In 2013, conservative Republicans refused to vote for a spending bill that did not defund Obamacare. The government shut down for 16 days, and polls showed a majority of Americans blamed Republicans.
“You take the party label off and watch how that's played out,” Holmes said. “It's never been good for the party that's blocking the funding for reasons irrelevant to the funding.”