The coming government shutdown that at least some congressional leaders are working hard to avoid was predicted by many when President Trump sidestepped congressional Republicans to cut a deal with Democratic leaders last fall. The deal was celebrated in the media and elated a president desperate for good press, but left Republicans worrying about what the White House gave up for a few headlines.
It happened in early September. The president ignored the advice of congressional Republicans to accept a Charles Schumer-Nancy Pelosi proposal to suspend the debt limit requirement as part of a three-month budget fix that runs out next week. Mr. Schumer bragged in an interview shortly after the deal was struck that it would give him the leverage he would need to get what he wants before years’ end when Republicans would be faced with surrender or a government shutdown that would be blamed on them.
Republican leaders had insisted on an 18-month extension, then when Democrats balked, proposed compromising on six months to keep the government in operation into the new year. Mr. Schumer would have none of it, having concluded before the meeting that if he could get the president to sign off on his proposal, he and his party would come out as clear winners this month.
It worked. The president sided with the Democrats and even expressed some support for getting rid of debt limit votes altogether. Liberals were ecstatic and the media suggested that perhaps the rookie president was maturing as he crossed the aisle and made a deal. The New York Times and The Washington Post went so far as to praise Mr. Trump, never a good sign for Republicans.
The president called Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer the next morning to brag about the coverage. “The press has been incredible,” he observed. He was back on top. He’d shown those incompetent Republicans that he could make a deal and would with whomever he needed to get what he wanted.
Critics of the deal were eventually proven correct. Mr. Schumer and Mrs. Pelosi outmaneuvered the great dealmaker. They knew how Congress works and he didn’t. So as Christmas approaches, the chickens are coming home to roost. Even as the deal was made, Democrats were confident it would give them the leverage they will need to force the president to accept their demands on immigration and more as the deal runs out this month.
The danger was summed up on the Senate floor by Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse shortly after the deal was struck. He warned that by getting the president to buy into his proposal, Mr. Schumer had “made himself the most powerful man in America for the month of December.”
December is here, and as Republicans scramble to avoid what increasingly appears to be an inevitable shutdown, Democrats are presenting their bill: They want amnesty for the “dreamers” and administration concessions on other immigration provisions the White House is seeking, and they want it before Congress recesses for Christmas. Mr. Schumer and Mrs. Pelosi have thus far been careful to avoid personally advocating the sort of government shutdown they castigated Republican leaders for forcing some years ago, leaving the outright threats to folks like Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin in an effort to avoid being tagged as unprincipled hypocrites. Yet the threat is clear enough: Give us what we want or we shut things down and, with our friends in the media, blame you for the consequences.
The president has reportedly mused in private that perhaps he will benefit from a shutdown. After all, his predecessor and congressional Democrats benefited when Republicans obstinately refused to deal with the Obama White House in 2014, so why shouldn’t he benefit this time? Mr. Schumer and company know he’s dreaming. The media will side with the liberals and blame the president for refusing to give in on their demands for the simple reason that most of them want what Democrats in Congress want.
During the next few weeks, Republican leaders in both houses of Congress will advance proposals seeking compromise. Each will in all likelihood be rejected by Democratic leaders confident that they are in the catbird seat and will ultimately get all or most of what they demand. That is exactly what happened in the Senate last week after Texas Sen. John Cornyn floated modified immigration proposals for consideration.
Republicans are in a dangerous corner. If they give in, they will outrage their base vote, give up on commitments made during last year’s campaign, and allow their adversaries to increase spending on programs they oppose. If they don’t buckle, they are likely to face the shutdown for which they fear they will be blamed.
This is just the sort of thing that critics of the September deal feared. It’s what happens when the chickens come home to roost.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large at The Washington Times.
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