Over the last few weeks, as the government shutdown has continued, intra-party fissures have been far more common among Republicans than Democrats. That wasn’t especially surprising: the shutdown strategy and demands for a border wall are inherently divisive for the GOP, far less so for Dems.
But given the importance of this dynamic, it’s only fair to note that one House Democrat has broken ranks. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) said Tuesday that Congress should agree to President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall, in one of the first public statements by a Democrat calling for his party’s leaders to throw in the towel as the partial government shutdown drags on.
“Give Trump the money,” Peterson said in an interview with Fargo, N.D.-based radio station KFGO. “I’d give him the whole thing … and put strings on it so you make sure he puts the wall where it needs to be. Why are we fighting over this? We’re going to build that wall anyway, at some time.”
Why the congressman thinks Trump’s wall will be built “anyway” is unclear.
Some context is probably in order. Peterson may come from a relatively blue state – Minnesota is literally the only state to back the Democratic presidential ticket in each of the last 11 elections – but he represents a conservative, rural district that heavily supported Donald Trump in 2016.
With this in mind, Peterson, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Caucus, voted with the Republican White House more than 60% of the time in Trump’s first two years – more than nearly any other Democrat in Congress.
It’s also worth noting that Peterson represents a border district – but not that border. There are nearly 2,000 miles between the Minnesotan’s hometown and the Mexican border.
To date, Peterson is the only Democratic member of Congress taking a “give Trump the money” posture. Team Trump is no doubt pleased to see the break in Democratic unity, though Peterson will need a whole lot of intra-party allies before it starts to make a significant difference.
And at least for now, that appears unlikely.
There was a point in the not-too-distant past at which we’d see Peterson and other conservative Dems doing exactly what he’s doing now: giving in and endorsing the Republican line. The trouble for Peterson is that contingent has been reduced to the point that it barely exists. Most conservative districts now have Republican representatives.
With this in mind, Democratic leaders are very likely to ignore Peterson’s recommendation. It’s not just that they consider Trump’s proposal a bad idea. And it’s not just the fact that every independent poll shows Americans siding with Dems against the White House. And it’s not just the fact that the president isn’t negotiating in good faith and hasn’t made a credible offer to resolve the crisis he created.
It’s also about how government is supposed to function.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday, “We cannot have the president, every time he has an objection, say, ‘I’ll shut down the government until you come to my way of thinking..’ … If we hold the employees hostage now, they’re hostage forever.”
This has the benefit of being true. As we discussed last week, Trump is trying to bypass the traditional American policymaking process – introduce an idea, send it to committee, allow for congressional debate and amendments, hold a series of legislative votes, etc. – by simply jumping to the end. He wants a wall, and he’ll hold government agencies and government workers hostage until he gets one.
If Dems agree, it will tell this president – and future presidents – that the easiest way to succeed is to embrace the politics of extortion. For the remainder of Trump’s term, no matter how long that is, he would know that he can get what he wants simply by demanding a series of non-negotiable ransoms.
The lesson would be unmistakable: if the president hurts just enough people, Democrats will give in to stop the suffering. Trump will know that he can push a co-equal branch of government into paying his ransom – even if that means ignoring sensible policymaking, even if it means ignoring Americans’ wishes – by taking radical steps that hurt the country.
I do, however, believe there’s an obvious compromise: how about the leaders from both parties drop all of their demands, give up all of their requests for concessions, and vote on a clean bill, free of any extraneous measures?
Sure, that’s the Democratic position now, but isn’t it the most responsible course out of the mess?