U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hold in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2017. 
JONATHAN ERNST

Trump threatens Democrats with a ‘good’ government ‘shutdown’

Updated
Over the last week or so, Donald Trump has done a series of interviews in which he’s complained bitterly about Democrats. That’s not exactly surprising – he’s a Republican president, and the parties don’t exactly see eye to eye – but the nature of the president’s complaints suggests he’s not altogether sure why he’s upset.

In a Bloomberg Politics interview yesterday, for example, Trump insisted, “Democrats are obstructionists; that’s all they can do is obstruct.” He said on CBS, “The Democrats have been totally obstructionist…. Democrats are extremely obstructionist. All they do is obstruct.” He said the same thing on Fox News, and then again on Twitter, adding that Democrats are not “interested” in “what’s best” for the United States.

In reality, Democrats haven’t actually obstructed much of anything. They’ve opposed the White House’s proposals, but Trump’s top legislative priorities haven’t advanced because of opposition from Republicans, not Democrats.

Nevertheless, Trump is convinced Dems are the source of his troubles, and it led the president to take his whining in a new direction this morning with a pair of odd tweets.
“The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”
Asked about Trump’s missives this morning, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) told reporters, “The president said what?” It’s a question with such broad applicability.

Regardless, while it’s generally wise not to overreact to every Trump tantrum on Twitter, it’s worth taking a moment to understand what’s going on here.

His reference to “the plan” refers to the spending agreement Democrats and Republicans reached over the weekend that will fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year in September. Trump yesterday praised the agreement, though it now appears to be dawning on him that Democrats got the better end of the deal, and the White House’s demands for the spending package were largely ignored. (I’m assuming this morning’s tweets were in response to some media coverage about this spending bill representing Trump’s latest defeat.)

Trump seemed to argue that the legislation needed 60 votes to pass the Senate – that’s true – which meant compromising with Democratic lawmakers, who took full advantage of the opportunity.

Round Two of the budget talks will continue in the fall, and the president now seems to be saying he doesn’t want to settle for another bipartisan deal comparable to this one. He’d rather have “a good ‘shutdown’ in September.” (The fact that “shutdown” was in quotes probably means something important to Trump, though no one has any idea what that might be.)

This is almost certainly unwise. If there’s a partisan showdown in the fall, it’s going to be difficult for Republicans to blame Democrats for a shutdown if the president himself has said he likes the idea of having a shutdown.

He added, “We either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%.” The Trump-to-English translator isn’t always correct, but I suspect that means the president wants either a filibuster-proof GOP majority in the next Congress, or he wants the Senate to scrap filibusters altogether.

In other words, the man who prides himself on his preternatural ability to strike deals has discovered that striking deals is difficult – and he’d rather not have to bother.

Finally, pay particular attention to the words “fix mess.” In context, Trump seems to believe a government shutdown would help Republicans and clear the way for the filibuster’s demise. It’s quite possible that the president believes he can use a shutdown to change the nature of the legislative process, creating a dynamic in which GOP policymakers can pass whatever they please.

There’s little to suggest Senate Republicans would embrace such a tactic, but it’s important to understand what the White House may have in mind.