Large parts of the federal government lurched toward a shutdown Saturday after President Trump told GOP leaders he would not sign a stop-gap spending bill unless it contained money to slow immigration.
The revelation came during an emergency meeting between Trump and House Republican leaders Thursday. At that meeting, he said he would not sign a bill passed by the Senate Wednesday night, which would fund government operations through February 8. The money did not contain the $5 billion Trump had sought for the construction of a wall along the Mexico border.
“The president informed us that he will not sign the bill that came over from the Senate last evening because of his legitimate concerns for border security,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said.
House Republicans now will attempt to add an amendment to the Senate measure that adds $5 billion for the construction of a border wall and other security measures, as well as additional funding to deal with recent natural disasters. Democrats have said they will not support such a bill, making it likely the legislation would fail.
Note that last sentence. They don’t even have enough support among Republicans in the House to fund the wall, just as likely incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) informed Trump last week. But Republicans are going to vote, anyway, because Trump said “jump.”
As one key tell, note that GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), who lost a tough race in a suburban district just outside Miami, just said he’ll vote “No” on Trump’s wall money. Trump had ridiculed Curbelo, claiming the congressman lost because he ran away from Trump — which is just pure delusion — and, for good measure, Trump mispronounced his name as “Cue-bella.” Given that a lot of suburban Republicans have been sent packing precisely because Trump was so toxic — in particular on immigration — more might be voting No, or not showing up to vote at all.
Even if this does somehow pass the House, it’s D.O.A. in the Senate. What’s more, looking forward, it’s not like the president is going to be able to get the House to fund the wall once all those newly elected Democrats come into Congress after the new year and Pelosi is the speaker. So what is he thinking?
The answer may be: not much. Which is to say that Trump doesn’t really have a plan here, he’s just reacting out of frustration. And he’s also being pushed by one of the forces he’s least able to resist: the right wing of his own party.
Something highly unusual has happened in the past day or so: Multiple conservatives in the House and right-wing media figures, that is, the people who are normally cheerleaders for Trump, have excoriated him for seeming to back down from his promise to build the wall:
- “The base will go crazy” if they don’t get wall funding, Freedom Caucus head and close Trump adviser Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said.
- “It’s what the drive-by media calls compromise: Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything, including control of the House in a few short weeks,” complained Rush Limbaugh.
- “It was supposed to be a ‘big beautiful wall’ with a ‘big beautiful door.’ Now it’s just an open door with no frame. Unreal. #BorderDisorder #GOPFail,” tweeted Laura Ingraham.
- “They want their wall and they want it now,” said Dan Bongino, filling in for Trump favorite Sean Hannity.
Trump knows these people speak directly to his base. And doing what he believes the base wants is always near the front of Trump’s mind.
But there’s an interesting twist here worth noting: What we see in these situations is not the right pushing Trump to do something he doesn’t want to do, but the right encouraging him to follow his urges, even when they’re politically foolish and are likely to ultimately fail. The more sensible people around him are no doubt saying, “We just don’t have a choice here: There aren’t enough votes for the wall, and you’ll get blamed it a shutdown happens. How does this end well for you?”
Part of Trump understands this. But another part of him doesn’t want to believe it. And the right speaks to the latter part.
What’s really at work here is that this whole process is just saturated in grift. These right-wing figures know full well that millions and millions of Republican voters have been snookered into believing they will get their wall one day, if Trump is just tough enough on those Democrats (never mind that not enough Republicans support the wall money for it to pass) to make it happen.
For these voters, the fact that Republicans just suffered an epic wipeout in the House — after Trump made the election all about his wall and the border, and after he repeatedly and explicitly told Americans across the country to vote as if he were on the ballot — simply has zero relevance.
Underscoring this point, last week’s NBC poll found that 48 percent of Republicans say “the elections were not a message to President Trump to change his programs and policies.” Emphasis ours. Thus, high-profile conservatives can tell their Republican audiences that the politics in this fight will be with Trump all the way, and only a failure of fortitude and will can possibly be why the wall is in doubt.
You can see something similar happening on the Russia investigation. Polls keep showing that majorities believe special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation is looking into serious and legitimate matters, that Trump is lying about the probe and that it will likely turn up evidence of wrongdoing. The GOP’s huge loss in November was unquestionably driven in part by the public’s desire for a check on Trump’s corruption.
Yet the right keeps pushing Trump to fight Mueller to the death, and following their lead, he still seems to be looking for the person who can step in to close down the investigation, whether it’s acting attorney general Matt Whitaker or William Barr, his nominee to take over that role.
Thus, we just learned that back in June, Barr wrote a memo to the Justice Department excoriating Mueller’s investigation. It’s hard to imagine that if Trump knew about it that didn’t make him feel warmly toward the idea of picking Barr to oversee the probe. But it’s ludicrous to think that Mueller could be fired or seriously constrained now without touching off the greatest crisis of Trump’s presidency.
But the right will keep telling Trump to go into this and any other situation with guns blazing, no matter how much it hurts him or the GOP. And he’ll keep listening.