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Why Trump's new government shutdown threat matters

It was just a few days ago that Paul Ryan said Trump is "willing to be patient" when it comes to wall funding. Evidently, the president disagrees.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with law enforcement officials on the MS-13 street gang and border security, in the Cabinet Room of the White...

It's one of those deadlines that no one really wants to think about, but current funding for the federal government will expire two months from today. For quite a while, Donald Trump has said he expects the upcoming spending package to include money for a massive border wall, while congressional leaders have told the White House that the president's goal is unrealistic.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) met with the president about this, and according to a Politico  report, Trump "seemed receptive" to an approach that would push off a fight over wall funding until after the elections. Ryan told reporters soon after, in reference to the push for wall funding, "The president is willing to be patient."

Is he, though? Trump has a bad habit of saying one thing during a meeting, and then saying the opposite after it's over, and as McConnell and Ryan likely noticed yesterday, it's apparently happened again.

President Donald Trump threatened on Sunday to shut down the federal government if the Democrats refuse to back his administration's proposed changes to immigration laws."I would be willing to 'shut down' government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!" Trump posted on Twitter.

By all accounts, this wasn't the line the president took with GOP leaders a few days earlier.

Some caveats are probably in order. Trump put the words "shut down" in quotes, and for this president, that sometimes means the words shouldn't be taken at face value. (He's struggled to learn what quote marks are for.) What's more, the tweet wasn't specific about a time frame: Trump may be prepared to shut down the government over wall funding, but does he mean before the election or after it? Would he accept a pre-election stopgap spending bill ("continuing resolution") that delayed the fight?

While these details are not yet in focus, the president has at least opened the door to some kind of new crisis, which may unfold roughly six weeks before Election Day.

There's practically no way for this to work out well for the White House. Under Scenario #1, Trump shuts down the government, ignores the wishes of the American mainstream on a contentious issue, and invites an electoral backlash. Under Scenario #2, Trump caves (again), keeps the government open without wall funding, and looks weak by failing to follow through on another threat.

It's possible, of course, that the president believes a pre-election shutdown over an unpopular border wall will rile up his base and help his party. I have a hunch Democrats would be pleased to see him test that theory.

Postscript: In case anyone's forgotten, it was just last month that Trump told Congress to stop even trying to pass immigration legislation until 2019. Evidently, that's no longer his position.