House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argue during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Trump struggles to find a way out of his own shutdown mess

In September 2013, when congressional Republicans shutdown the federal government for 16 days, Donald Trump wanted Barack Obama to get the blame. “[P]roblems start from the top and they have to get solved from the top and the president’s the leader,” Trump said at the time. “And he’s got to get everybody in a room and he’s got to lead. [Obama] doesn’t do that. He doesn’t like doing that. It’s not his strength…. It’s very embarrassing worldwide.”

A week later, asked how he would negotiate a deal to avoid a shutdown, Trump added, “Well, very simply, you have to get everybody in a room. You have to be a leader. The president has to lead…. Unfortunately, [Obama] has never been a dealmaker. That wasn’t his expertise before he went into politics. And it’s obviously not his expertise now.”

More than five years later, the Republican’s rhetoric appears almost laughable. Trump orchestrated a partial government shutdown on Dec. 21, and since then, the president hasn’t assembled “everybody into a room,” hasn’t played the role of “dealmaker,” and hasn’t even tried to “lead.”

Trump didn’t bother to reach out to congressional Democrats at all during the holidays, and the president reportedly hasn’t even spoken to incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi since Dec. 11.

It’s almost as if, when we look past the bluster and the chest-thumping, Trump doesn’t know anything about striking deals.

Today, evidently, the president will at least open the door to some kind of dialog, leaving unanswered the question of why he sat around for nearly two weeks, tweeting at lawmakers instead of talking to them. Politico  reported:

President Donald Trump has invited congressional leaders to a Wednesday afternoon briefing on the border wall at the White House, according to three congressional sources familiar with the invitation.

White House officials on New Year’s Eve asked House and Senate leaders in both parties to attend the meeting. The session, which will include a briefing by top Homeland Security Department officials, comes as a partial government shutdown over Trump’s border wall reaches its eleventh day.

While some interaction is probably better than none, it’s worth emphasizing that lawmakers don’t need a briefing; they need a resolution, which Trump could help negotiate if he had any idea how to get out of the mess he created.

A fairly obvious solution would be congressional approval of some border-security measures, without funding for a giant border wall, which the White House could tout as a moral victory. Indeed, over the holiday weekend, a variety of key Trump allies – including John Kelly, Kellyanne Conway, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) – downplayed the significance of a literal wall. Graham, in particular, told reporters, “The wall has become a metaphor for border security.”

And while it’s bizarre to think Republicans shut down the government for what they consider a symbol, this at least offered the president a possible off-ramp. If funding for a literal wall isn’t a necessity, and the GOP would be satisfied with some additional border-security funding, the shutdown can end tomorrow with relative ease.

But Trump quickly made clear that he believes his own allies are wrong. The United States cannot have border security, the president declared via Twitter over the holiday weekend, “without a strong and powerful Wall.” In case his position wasn’t clear enough, he added, “You see, without the Wall there can be no Border Security,” and, “Without a Wall there can be no real Border Security.”

Trump backed himself into a corner weeks ago. He seems determined to make matters worse.

For their part, the incoming Democratic House majority intends to vote tomorrow on a pair of spending bills that would re-open the government. The first would fund the Department of Homeland Security, including $1.3 billion for fencing, through Feb. 8. The second would fund the other federal agencies affected by the shutdown through the end of the fiscal year.

In theory, the Republican-led Senate should be amenable, since they approved a similar package on a voice vote two weeks ago. It’s unclear, however, whether GOP senators will take a much harder line now in order to satisfy Trump’s tantrum.

What’s more, even if the upper chamber were to approve the House package, the White House has already condemned the plan – which the president was inclined to support just two weeks ago – as a “non-starter.”

Trump knew how to dig himself into a ditch. He apparently didn’t give much thought about how he’d get out.