The timing couldn't have been more imperfect for Republicans in Congress: Just as Senate leaders were telling reporters that they may have a deal on a long-term spending bill, one that has eluded them for months, Trump made a stunning admission.
“I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of” — “this stuff” meaning immigration.
What Trump said is extremely problematic for Congress as it scrambles to avoid a shut down by midnight Friday, and for more than one reason:
Republican leaders don't want to go anywhere near immigration right now. From their perspective, only bad things happen when immigration gets thrown into the mix. When Democrats tried to tie immigration and spending together a few weeks ago, the government shut down.
Even if Congress did want to talk immigration, Trump is championing a proposal that is dead on arrival. No one in Congress likes his proposal. On the right, they're incensed by Trump's offer to build a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants. On the left, they're incensed by Trump's idea to drastically cut legal immigration. Trump's legal immigration proposals are so conservative that not even mainstream Republicans support them.
Basically, in trying to take the lead on immigration, he took Congress to a place it can't follow. And instead of listening to lawmakers about what they can pass, Trump is doubling down on his proposal.
Trump's intransigent position-staking also threatens to upend Senate Majority Leader McConnell's (R-Ky.) delicate shutdown deal with Democrats. In exchange for their votes to keep the government open January and this week, McConnell said it was his “intention” to hold a debate on protecting “dreamers.” But Trump says that even if something just protecting dreamers could pass the Senate, he probably wouldn't sign it. So what incentive do Democrats have to stick to their end of the bargain and help keep the government open?
Trump doesn't seem to care if the government shuts down. Trump wants a win on immigration. This much is clear. And now that he's finally settled on a position, it seems like that's the only win he's focused on. I mean, Trump flat out said on Tuesday he would be willing to shut down the government to try to force Congress to accept his immigration proposal.
But congressional Republicans very much care if the government shuts down. Polls show their party got blamed for it. And, as The Fix's Aaron Blake points out, Trump is now bear-hugging any blame for another one. The leader of the Republican Party wants a shut down! That's a pretty unavoidable conclusion.
An NBC News-SurveyMonkey poll found that 56 percent of Americans blamed Trump and Republicans for last month's shutdown.
There's a strong case to make Trump was to blame for the first shut down. The president is often a wild card in any high-stakes debate. He's an unreliable negotiator with members of his own party. He stoked the fires with his “shithole countries” comment days before the last deadline. He consistently moves the goal posts on what he wants in an immigration bill. Last year, he privately mused that one would be good for him politically. Now, he is the only major player in this actually rooting for a shut down.
This time, the stakes are higher — Congress is four months into the new fiscal year with no budget, teetering on the edge of a shutdown and less than a month from potentially politically catastrophic March deadline when dreamers could be deported.