It’s admittedly an unpleasant subject, but the federal government will shut down – again – in about 39 hours unless there’s some kind of bipartisan agreement in Congress. It’s against this backdrop that Donald Trump is accusing Democrats of “treason” because they failed to clap to his satisfaction during the president’s State of the Union address.
But that’s not all he’s saying. Trump hosted a “Law Enforcement Roundtable on MS-13” at the White House yesterday, and unprompted, welcomed the prospect of a government shutdown over immigration policy.
“Frankly – I’ll go a step further – if we don’t change the legislation, if we don’t [get] rid of these loopholes where killers are allowed to come into our country and continue to kill – gang members. And we’re just talking about MS-13. There are many gang members that we don’t even mention. If we don’t change it, let’s have a shutdown. We’ll do a shutdown. And it’s worth it for our country. I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of.”
Soon after, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president is “not looking for” a shutdown, despite the fact that her boss had just said he’d “love to see” one.
But even putting that apparent contradiction aside, there was a more glaring problem with Trump’s comments yesterday: they didn’t appear to make any sense.
There’s been some progress on Capitol Hill in recent days on avoiding a shutdown. The House passed a stop-gap spending bill yesterday – called a “continuing resolution” (or CR) – with the expectation that it’ll be blocked by Senate Democrats, which will probably happen today. At that point, Senate leaders are likely to unveil a compromise measure that would establish funding levels through next year, removing the possibility of a shutdown for a while.
What does this have to do with immigration? In a word, nothing. While DACA protections for Dreamers was obviously a key component of the recent fight that led to last month’s shutdown, both parties agreed to keep the immigration fight separate from the current spending bill.
Trump, for reasons that haven’t yet been explained, seemed eager yesterday to do the opposite.
In fact, Vox’s Tara Golshan noted that the president made his position less clear with his rhetoric: “Does this mean Trump is proposing a government shutdown on March 23 (the date it seems Congress has coalesced around to extend government spending to)? Is he assuming that the immigration bill would be attached to whatever spending bill is proposed at the end of March? If so, what happened to the March 5 ‘deadline’ the Trump administration said they’d fully end DACA by?”
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but more importantly, the president doesn’t seem to, either. Trump referred yesterday to “the legislation” without actually identifying which bill he was referring to.
If officials are going to avoid a shutdown, today will be a key day in the process. To succeed, congressional leaders will probably have to ignore the odd utterances from the White House.