Opinion writer

President Trump just gave us all yet another glimpse of those brilliant negotiating skills he keeps boasting about:

President Trump, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer clashed Tuesday over funding for the border wall, an explosive Oval Office encounter that ended with Trump declaring he’d be proud to shut down the government to get what he wants.

The stunning public spat, during which Schumer accused the president of throwing a “temper tantrum,” ended with no resolution and appeared to increase the chances of a partial government shutdown at the end of next week. … 

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” Trump said, insisting the public doesn’t want criminals and others coming into the country. “I’m going to shut it down for border security.”

Despite voluntarily taking ownership of the shutdown, Trump, needless to say, will just turn right around and blame Democrats for it if it happens. He has made that task much more difficult for himself.

Democrats have offered Trump a choice: Either he accepts $1.6 billion in border security funding as part of a broad government funding bill, or he accepts a “continuing resolution” for the Department of Homeland Security, which would be an extension of funding at last year’s levels, which would give Trump $1.3 billion for border security.

Both of those options would include restrictions on how that money can be spent, meaning it cannot be spent on the type of wall Trump craves. But Trump has demanded $5 billion for the wall in unrestricted funds.

Trump genuinely appears to believe that he’s got the better political hand here. In the meeting, he also said:

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. Because the people of this country don’t want criminals, and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

In other words, if Trump shuts down the government to get his wall, the public will side with him.

As it happens, behind the scenes, Republicans are privately going through the results of the midterms, and they’re concluding that Trump’s stances on immigration hurt them more than they previously thought. The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reports:

Republican operatives in the 2018 trenches, now formulating battle plans for the next election, are backing the suburban Republicans blaming Trump for their ejection from Congress. In reviewing polling and other data, they discovered that the president’s provocative immigration rhetoric was more damaging to the House GOP during the final seven to 10 days than they realized at the time.

Trump hammered on the migrant caravan as he barnstormed red states to stump for Republican Senate candidates in the homestretch while also raising the specter of eliminating birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants. The president’s near-singular focus on those issues repelled Hispanics, independents and soft Republicans, turning a race for House control that leaned Democratic into a late-breaking GOP bloodbath.

Emphasis mine. Now, the politics of shutdown fights can get complicated and unpredictable, and presidents often have the upper hand, given the influence they can wield over the media narrative. But one hopes that if this does turn into a serious and protracted standoff, Democrats will keep in mind that Republicans are privately concluding that Trump’s closing hate message was deeply toxic for them.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (Evan Vucci/AP)

In the meeting with Schumer and Pelosi, Trump told a bunch of lies about his wall. He claimed that “tremendous amounts of wall are already being built” (which is false), and repeatedly insisted that building it would stop the “drugs” that are “pouring into our country” (which is also false). Trump has told the lie that we are already building his wall dozens and dozens of times. The same goes for the lie that it will stop drugs from pouring in. On other occasions, Trump has bolstered his call for the wall with many other false claims -- that the “caravan” of asylum seekers is riddled with criminals, or that our immigration laws are lax.

After the meeting, Pelosi told reporters that she was loath to call out Trump’s lies in front of him. She said she was reluctant to say to his face, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

But ultimately, Tuesday’s events really underscore that Democrats must not give any ground in this showdown. Everyone knows Trump’s call for a wall has zero in the way of real policy justification. As I’ve argued, Democrats must use their new House majority to get back into the fight against Trump’s war on facts, and mount a stand on behalf of empiricism and good faith governing. Trump’s display of lies, bad faith and destructive threats cannot be rewarded. Especially coming after a midterm that Republicans themselves say demonstrated the bone deep toxicity of Trump’s xenophobic nationalism, it must be unambiguously repudiated.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Trump has already lost the shutdown fight

Greg Sargent: As Trump slides in a new poll, reality begins piercing the bubble

Eugene Robinson: What has the president been ‘smocking’?

Erik Wemple: Tucker Carlson: Trump is a crime victim

Ronald A. Klain: A crowded road to 2020 will yield the best Democrat