President Trump just significantly upped the chances that the government will shut down at the end of this month, weeks before an election. In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump simultaneously signaled that he’d be okay with a government shutdown over immigration and that there’s little Congress can do to change his mind.
Trump’s tweet comes as Congress is doing everything it can to avoid this. Lawmakers have tried to get spending bills to his desk weeks earlier than normal. They have (gasp) reached across the aisle to keep the government open. They even came up with a plan last week to kick some of the big spending fights — like Trump’s border wall — to after the November midterm elections, even though lawmakers desperately want to fund the government on time this year and were on track to do so for major agencies.
But in just one tweet, Trump shredded all that work. He called the compromise bill designed to avoid a shutdown “ridiculous.” He questioned why there aren’t billions in it to build his border wall and, perhaps most worrying for Republicans, questioned their commitment to getting border wall money to him after the midterms.
What Trump is pooh-poohing is a deal precisely to avoid a government shutdown, and he knows it. Congress reached this spending deal last week, and House GOP leaders thought Trump was on board with it. The plan was to pause this border wall fight until after the midterm elections by pushing off funding the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the wall, until December.
Trying to get Trump his border wall funding by Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends, was going to be too messy a fight. It is one that Republicans maintain they would almost surely lose, because they don’t have the votes in the Senate for the $5 billion Trump wants to start building his wall, at least not before a contentious election in which Democrats don’t want to give Trump a single win.
The end result would be a shutdown on Republicans' watch, weeks before their control of Congress is on the line. Republican leaders think that would be the equivalent of shooting themselves in the feet weeks before they head into midterms.
But it looks as if all those arguments have gone unheard. Trump doesn’t want a border wall fight later, according to this tweet — and the seven other times he has threatened to shut down the government in as many weeks. He wants a border wall fight now. Another way to read that: He genuinely wants a government shutdown, and there’s little Congress can do to dissuade him.
Trump could always change his mind. In the spring, he threatened to veto a spending bill, only to sign it hours later. But as the weeks tick closer to the end of the fiscal year, Trump has gotten much more bold in threatening, and even embracing, a shutdown. He flat-out said this month that a shutdown could be good politics for him.
“I would do it, because I think it’s a great political issue,” he told reporters.
That is the exact opposite of how everyone else in Washington thinks. But Trump may have different calculations. He may be trying to rally his base so he doesn’t get blamed for Republicans' losing their majorities in Congress. Steve Bell, a former GOP Senate budget aide, has predicted that Trump will do what he naturally does when backed against the wall: stir up controversy and rally his base. Shutting down the government to take a stand for one of his quintessential campaign promises fits that bill pretty well.
That would mean that, as Republican lawmakers go one direction to try to save their majorities in Congress, Trump is going in the opposite one. And if he sticks to what he tweeted Thursday, it significantly increases the chances that the government will shut down later this month, despite all of Congress’s efforts.