It was a Frank Capra movie. Jimmy Stewart, the idealistic new senator, somehow stops the corrupt old men who think they run the country – or he finds out that the big bankers cannot ruin his life after all – because there are such things as goodness and decency and thoughtfulness and respect for others – a real community. The good guys can win. It’s never easy, but they do win now and then. So this was the day for that. Republicans had held the House and Senate and the White House for two full years, and those two years ended in the dead of winter with the government shut down. They meant to leave with a continuing resolution in place – fund everything at the current levels of spending and decide later what to do about that rather expensive odd wall that President Trump wanted. And even President Trump agreed. No one wants to shut everything down at Christmas, furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers and making twice that many work without pay – because they’re “essential” – but paying them isn’t essential. That was just too mean – so the Senate passed that continuing resolution and sent it over to the House – and then the president changed his mind. He wanted five billion dollars up front for that wall, now, and he would sign nothing that didn’t give him that five billion.
Sure, that was mean, and sure, he had blindsided everyone in his own party, making them look foolish, but he decided things would shut down unless he got exactly what he wanted. He wasn’t going to look like a wimp. He would bring on the pain, until he got exactly what he wanted. His message was simple. You want that pain to end? Give me that money. Build a wall for me, or it’s going to be a long cold winter – without pay for many. And he pointed out that there was only one way this could end. Those damned Democrats had to give in and cough up the cash. And if the pain continued, that would be their fault, not his. Then he signed an executive order freezing all pay for all federal workers, indefinitely, just to rub it in. No one gets anything unless he gets his wall.
It was cold. It was dark. And then Nancy Pelosi became Jimmy Stewart:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) laid out the starkly different direction the House would take in her inaugural speech Thursday afternoon, just minutes after winning the votes to seize back the gavel and give Democrats veto power over President Trump’s legislative agenda.
“Two months ago, the American people spoke, and demanded a new dawn,” she declared.
Pelosi, the first and only woman ever to serve as speaker nodded to the history of the moment, coming almost exactly a century after women first got the right to vote in the U.S. The new House will be the most diverse by many measures in American history.
It was a Frank Capra movie. Everything suddenly turned around:
Pelosi laid out a laundry list of Democratic priorities – ones that haven’t had a chance in the House for years, and stand in direct contrast to the last eight years of conservative priorities, particularly the tumultuous first two years of the Trump presidency. At their heart: A promise to work for “the public interest, not the special interests.”
She warned of the “existential threat of our time: the climate crisis, a crisis manifested in natural disasters of epic proportions.”
She said that growing income disparity was “the root of the crisis of confidence felt by so many Americans.”
And she promised action on gun control regulation, protections for immigrants, DREAMers and LGBTQ Americans, and a push to lower drug prices and defend Obamacare, including its protections for pre-existing conditions.
It’s a wonderful life, or could be, as Jennifer Rubin notes here:
There was brightness and even joy in the House of Representatives from the new Democratic caucus and those looking for some relief from the fear, nastiness and anger of the Trump presidency. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) beamed as she was nominated and declared the winner and welcomed to the podium, as well as throughout her opening address to the House she now leads – one with a record number of female representatives. One cannot help but contrast it with that rainy inaugural day when the new president gave what was probably the darkest and meanest inaugural address in history.
While President Trump spoke of “American carnage” and “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” Pelosi spoke of the majesty of democracy, and with optimism. “We enter this new Congress with a sense of great hope and confidence for the future, and deep humility and prayerfulness in the face of the challenges ahead,” she said. “Our nation is at an historic moment. Two months ago, the American people spoke, and demanded a new dawn. They called upon the beauty of our Constitution: our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy, remembering that the legislative branch is Article I: the first branch of government, co-equal to the president and judiciary.”
That was a taunt. Trump folks were outraged – he’s the PRESIDENT and she’s not! But there is that pesky Constitution. She is right about that, but that’s a bit academic. Rubin sees the real challenge here, the presentation of a different kind of governing:
Rather than anger, invective, insults and constant haranguing about “invaders,” Pelosi spoke about “love” and the need for bipartisanship. She managed to tweak Republicans, saying, “We will debate and advance good ideas no matter where they come from. And in that spirit, Democrats will be offering the Senate Republican appropriations legislation to re-open government later today – to meet the needs of the American people, to protect our borders, and to respect our workers.” (Ouch.)
Lest anyone mistake her for an anti-government Republican, Pelosi reeled off a list of things she thinks government can do to improve people’s lives: protecting Social Security, funding schools, job training, ending discrimination. We’ve gotten so used to Republican gloom and doom, fearmongering and mismanagement, it was quite a moment for those who think politicians have an obligation to govern well.
And politicians can govern with grace and decency too:
Pundits and politicians rightly credit Pelosi with vote-counting acumen, legislative skill, perseverance and toughness. What they often forget is that she does it all with a smile and entreaties to Republicans, not with the crossed arms, pursed lips and bitter snark the president so frequently exhibits…
We still face a president who lacks the basic intellectual, ethical and temperamental requirements of the job. But for a day, there seemed to be a pleasant breeze blowing through the Capitol.
Eugene Robinson agrees with that:
The Republican Party remains essentially a zombielike servant of Trump. He keeps telling congressional Republicans to jump off cliffs, and they keep taking the plunge. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week that he will not even bring to the floor House-passed spending measures – that the Senate last month unanimously approved.
But for the first time, Trump will confront an opposition that has real power. All the frenzied tweeting in the world can’t take back his self-proclaimed ownership of the “Trump shutdown,” as Pelosi calls it. How much garbage needs to pile up on the Mall before McConnell, who has made deals with Pelosi before, seeks a way out of the impasse? How many government paychecks and subsidy payments have to be missed?
Trump will learn that government-by-tantrum doesn’t always work – and, more to the point, that he’s not the only one in Washington with real power.
And so it begins:
The newly Democratic-controlled House passed a package of bills late Thursday that would reopen the federal government without paying for President Trump’s border wall, drawing a swift veto threat from the White House and leaving the partial shutdown no closer to getting resolved.
But two Senate Republicans who are up for reelection in 2020 broke with Trump and party leaders on their shutdown strategy, saying it was time to end the impasse even if Democrats won’t give Trump the more than $5 billion in border funding he is demanding.
Pelosi is already starting to win this:
The comments from Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Susan Collins (Maine) – the only Senate Republicans running for reelection in states Trump lost – pointed to cracks within the GOP that could grow as the shutdown nears the two-week mark.
These two are willing to endure the wrath of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, sensing that as less and less works in this country, on purpose, more and more ordinary apolitical folks will get angrier and angrier, and look for someone to blame, which will be the party that has been saying that there will be massive pain, for everyone, unless Trump gets his wall, paid for by the American taxpayer, not Mexico. They want no part of that.
But others can live with most of America thinking they’re thugs making threats:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reiterated Thursday that the Senate will only take up government spending legislation that Trump supports.
McConnell’s stance prompted angry attacks Thursday from new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats, who insisted they were trying to give Republicans a way out of the standoff by passing two pieces of legislation: one a package of six spending bills that were negotiated on a bipartisan basis in the Senate and would reopen nearly all the federal agencies that have been shuttered since Dec. 22, and the second a stopgap spending bill through Feb. 8 covering only the Department of Homeland Security.
The six-bill package passed the House 241-190 Thursday night, and the short-term Homeland Security spending bill passed 239-192. A handful of Republicans broke ranks on each measure to vote “yes” with the Democrats.
This was a gift and a taunt:
The House strategy could allow Senate Republicans to pass legislation that would reopen most of the government while setting aside the debate over the border wall. But thus far, because of Trump’s opposition, party leaders have refused.
“What we’re asking the Republicans in the Senate to do is to take ‘yes’ for an answer. We are sending them back exactly, word for word, what they have passed,” Pelosi said. “Why would they not do that? Is it because the president won’t sign it? Did they not hear about the coequal branch of government, and that we the Congress send the president legislation and he can choose to sign or not?”
Do they dare do anything independent of the president? Ah, nope:
McConnell on Thursday restated the stance he has adopted since the Senate unanimously passed a short-term spending bill last month without additional wall funding – only to watch as Trump turned against it the very next morning amid a conservative backlash.
“I’ve made it clear on several occasions, and let me say it again: The Senate will not take up any proposal that does not have a real chance of passing this chamber and getting a presidential signature. Let’s not waste the time,” McConnell said. “Let’s not get off on the wrong foot, with House Democrats using their new platform to produce political statements rather than serious solutions.”
McConnell thought he was being totally reasonable. The Senate could do the reasonable thing and pass the House bill – good for everyone concerned and good for the country – but this president will veto everything sent his way, until he gets exactly what he wants. He’s the one who is being totally unreasonable, but he is the president, so the reasonable thing to do is not waste time passing anything at all – because no one will ever know what he will or will not sign at any given time. The reasonable thing to do is to do nothing at all.
And so it goes:
Top congressional leaders plan to meet with Trump at the White House Friday, in a repeat of a meeting they had on Wednesday. But so far there are no signs of a breakthrough or any movement.
“We’re not doing a wall. Does anyone have any doubt that we’re not doing a wall?” Pelosi said Thursday.
Vice President Pence, in an interview Thursday on Fox News, reinforced the administration’s position. “I think the president has made it very clear: no wall, no deal,” Pence said.
And that’s that:
As the impasse dragged on, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said for the first time that the stalemate could continue for “months and months.” A funding lapse of that length would have compounding consequences for the government’s ability to provide promised services, and for the approximately 800,000 federal workers who are either furloughed at home or working without any guarantee of getting paid…
Shelby’s comments marked the first time a top political figure estimated the shutdown could drag into the spring, drawing alarm from federal workers and others.
“Hearing this from the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee is, quite candidly, a punch in the jaw of federal employees,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 150,000 federal employees. “Their mental anguish and anxiety is bad enough. To hear this coming straight from congressional leaders does not instill a lot of hope.”
Let it go. Obama ran on hope. Trump ran on humiliating all others, on winning, and on never being humiliated:
Though some Senate Republicans broke with Trump and leadership Thursday, others cautioned about what would happen if he caved on his signature promise.
“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday during an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. “That’s probably the end of his presidency. Donald Trump has made a promise to the American people: He’s going to secure our border.”
No, that’s not the promise he made. The border can be secured in all sorts of ways, but he promised a big wall from sea to shining sea, paid for by Mexico.
Catherine Rampell has an idea about that:
President Trump wants a wall. Democratic lawmakers don’t want to pay for it. Here’s an elegant compromise: If Trump truly thinks building a wall is such a brilliant idea, he should pay for it himself.
The wall, after all, is a non-solution to a non-crisis. Or as Trump budget director and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney put it in a recently resurfaced 2015 interview, wall-as-immigration-policy is “absurd and almost childish.”
Mulvaney was right:
In recent years, we’ve had a net OUTFLOW of undocumented immigrants, with the total estimated population shrinking to a decade low in 2017. Even if you thought that dwindling number of undocumented immigrants was still a problem, note that most immigrants joining the undocumented population don’t cross the border illegally; they come in legally and overstay their visas.
Which means a wall is unlikely to do much unless it’s tall enough to stop airplanes.
There’s also the physical and legal impracticality of building a 2,000-mile wall along the southern border, where rough terrain makes construction challenging. And in Texas, most border land is privately owned, so the federal government would have to kick private citizens off their own property. There are also more effective border security technologies, such as drones, that Trump dismissed at a Wednesday Cabinet meeting as mere “bells and whistles.”
All of which is to say that spending money on a magical border wall is not a good use of billions of dollars. But if we’re gonna waste billions of dollars, at least let those billions be Trump’s.
And this could work:
The best possible outcome might be this: If Trump believes that he – rather than the taxpaying public – is on the hook for construction costs, he might just declare the thing already built. He can instruct Fox News to air some B-roll of the Great Wall of China and hope his supporters don’t notice the difference, and we can all, at long last, move on to the next fake crisis.
That just might work, but the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim cover the real world:
Inside a contentious meeting in the Situation Room at the White House on Wednesday, the usually reserved Vice President Pence leveled a sharp accusation at Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer: He never bothered to respond to an offer to reopen the government that Pence made days earlier.
Schumer was prepared with a response. Turning to President Trump, the New York Democrat reminded him that he said this week he wouldn’t accept less than the $5.6 billion in wall funding that was approved by House Republicans late last year – far more than the $2.5 billion Pence was proposing.
“Didn’t you, Mr. President?” Schumer pressed.
The president, with his arms folded, smiled and nodded, according to two people familiar with the meeting who requested anonymity to discuss the private discussions.
And then it dawned on Vice President Pence that he had just been thrown under the bus. He’d been used. Trump had sent him to “negotiate” what Trump will never negotiate. Schumer understood that. Trump understood that. The vice president wasn’t in on the joke, a joke on him. That’s what made Trump smile.
No one else is smiling:
In Trump, congressional Democrats and Republicans have found a principal who often changes his mind on a whim, whose messages to Capitol Hill can be mixed and who undercuts his own vice president and advisers in high-stakes negotiations with little hesitation.
But despite Trump’s unpredictability, lawmakers are wary of negotiating with any of his aides because they believe only Trump speaks for Trump – a lesson that has been reinforced in recent weeks.
Republican senators had come away from a mid-December lunch with Pence believing that Trump would sign a short-term government funding bill without the amount of wall money the president had demanded and soon passed a bill to avert a government shutdown. Then Trump said he opposed the legislation.
And without a consistent message from the president, Trump’s aides sometimes also offer conflicting versions of what he will accept.
So, finally, no one knows what’s going on, except Trump:
Lawmakers have grown frustrated that the shutdown has gone on with no end in sight. There were little actual negotiations on Wednesday and senior Republicans warned that the shutdown could drag on for months while saying Trump has to be the chief negotiator for the GOP.
“In the end, it’s gotta be him,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), the new No. 2 in Senate Republican leadership who also attended the briefing. “It can’t be the vice president, and it can’t be members of his staff.”
And then it dawned on John Thune that it will never be Trump:
Thune is scheduled to return to the White House on Friday and even though he said the briefing this week was helpful, he did not sound optimistic progress would be made.
He said he’s keeping his expectations “low.”
Of course he is, but this is a Frank Capra movie. The world is dark. The world is run by greedy and cynical and corrupt men who sneer at everyone and everything. They run everything. Everything is lost.
And then there’s a new dawn. And it dawns on everyone that it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s a wonderful life after all. At least that’s how the movie ends. There is hope.