During the first 12 days of the government shutdown, Donald Trump made no meaningful efforts to resolve the problem. The president held no meetings with lawmakers, extended no offers or proposals, he didn’t urge his party’s leaders to call Congress back into session, and he didn’t even pick up the phone to discuss the problem with the incoming House speaker.
It might be tempting to hope that the Republican used all of that “executive time” to brush up on the policy details and formulate a specific game plan, so that when lawmakers returned after the holidays, the White House would be able to hit the ground running when negotiations began in earnest.
Evidently, that didn’t happen. Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s report on the bipartisan talks held on Friday.
Mr. Trump opened Friday’s meeting with lawmakers with a 15-minute profanity-laced rant about impeachment, according to people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Trump also told lawmakers he didn’t like the word shutdown and preferred the word “strike,” one of the people said.
While the talks occurred behind closed doors, and there’s no publicly available transcript of the discussion, several other news organizations published similar accounts, including the “strike” anecdote.
After the meeting, Trump spoke to reporters, and though he didn’t specifically use the word “strike,” the president did say, in response to a question from NBC News’ Hallie Jackson. “I’m very proud of doing what I’m doing. I don’t call it a shutdown.”
That’s a shame, because it’s actually a shutdown – a word Trump has previously used dozens of times.
Part of the problem here is that the president may be confused about what “strike” means. As a Daily Beast report noted, “Many of the federal employees affected by the weeks-long shutdown have been working without pay. That is essentially the opposite of a strike.”
But the other part of the problem is Trump’s odd preoccupation with trying to rebrand words he doesn’t like.
Later in the year, some Department of Health and Human Services officials received guidance telling them to use “Obamacare” instead of the Affordable Care Act, and to use “exchanges” instead of “marketplaces.” Around the same time, certain State Department documents started referring to sex education as “sexual risk avoidance.”
Trump has similarly rejected use of words and phrases such as “Dreamers” and “community colleges,” and one of his principal goals during NAFTA talks was to give the tweaked trade agreement a new name.
The problem even arose during the health care fight. At one point in early March 2017, Trump and then-House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke about the GOP’s proposal, and the president said he had had a problem: Ryan had used the word “buckets” to describe the additional steps of reform that would follow the initial legislation. “I don’t like that word buckets,” Trump reportedly said, preferring “phases.”
More recently, the Republican suggested people start referring to his “wall” as “steel slats,” as if the latter would make it more palatable to Congress.
Why does he care so much what things are called? Apparently, Trump sees this as his way to contribute to policy debates. In February 2017, Trump boasted at a meeting with business leaders, “I’m good at branding.”
He’s really not, and his focus on the subject isn’t helpful.