How Long Can We Really Expect a Respite from the Shutdown?

"How Pelosi won the shutdown battle."  That was a headline on the Politico website following President Trump's announcement of an agreement that reopened the government.  But the article never mentioned the fact that this was only a lull in the battle – a three-week suspension.  Both sides claim victory, and both remain undeterred.  So, in three weeks, it will likely all heat up again.

During his announcement, President Trump recognized the hardships suffered from the shutdown and noted that several Democrats had quietly expressed a willingness to negotiate a real solution.  He made it clear that, come February 15, if Democrats still refuse reasonable funding for a border wall, either the government will shut down again or he will fund it through other means.

Senator Pelosi was certainly emboldened by the polls, suggesting that most Americans hold the president responsible for this shutdown.  Perhaps that was because of his intemperate remark during that meeting with Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.  It may be because the liberal press joins the Democrats in propagating that narrative.  Or it could just stem from our tendency to hold the person at the top responsible when things go wrong.

But a more objective look shows a different picture. 

It turns out that even the president can't compel federal employees to work without pay.  That's where the budget and Congress come in.  The impasse – congressional Democrats' refusal to pass a budget that accommodates Trump's demand for a border wall – suggests that both sides were equally responsible for the shutdown.

Still, while Trump made several overtures to the Democrats, Pelosi and Schumer were, and apparently still are unwilling to give an inch, steadfastly refusing to consider any funding for the wall.  A negotiated compromise seems to be the best solution, but since the Democrats' concept of negotiation seems to be "Give me what I want, and then we'll talk," these five basic rules of negotiation are offered for her benefit:   

  1. You have to first come to the bargaining table.

Pelosi's and Schumer's supporters might believe that those jaunts to Hawaii and Puerto Rico and that truncated trip to Brussels were really intended to ease the pain they claim to share with those furloughed federal workers.  But, as President Trump strongly suggested, the best way to help those workers is to remain in Washington and negotiate a budget.

  1. Know what you want.

Successful negotiation requires clear goals.  Not that long ago, many leading Democrats firmly opposed illegal immigration.  In 2009, Schumer announced that illegal immigration is wrong, "plain and simple."  Then, during the 2018 campaign, they were all beating your breasts for illegal aliens, wailing about building bridges, not walls.  Now, once again, they claim to oppose illegal immigration while at the same time encouraging it with tantalizing incentives, like sanctuary cities, free health care, and offers of in-state college tuition for illegal aliens.  Along with those calls to abolish ICE, what Democrats want is becoming increasingly clear.  Their goal is not to negotiate a budget, but to defeat Trump's plans to secure our border.  That's called negotiating in "bad faith."

  1. Don't negotiate in bad faith

Try candor.  Be honest.  Democrats should stop pretending they bear no responsibility for the shutdown.  Don't argue that "walls are ineffective," when common sense and most experts tell us they work – when statistics show illegal crossings dropping dramatically where walls are constructed.  Don't try to argue that surveillance systems, alarms, and fences alone can prevent the kind of chaos that recently occurred when hordes of caravanners trekking north stampeded across the flimsy fencing separating Guatemala and Mexico.  And don't say walls are immoral when you know they help prevent crime.  Don't talk about morality when you refuse to even meet with Angel Families, Americans whose lives were upended by criminals who had no right to be in this country.       

  1. Don't overplay your hand.

Democrats may believe that polling data puts them in a strong bargaining position, but external events can quickly change that.  More caravans, more illegal border crossings, and more Angel Families are inevitable, and that will only increase the demand for real border security.  Unless they can reach a negotiated compromise in three weeks, we'll be back to square one, and voters will finally come to understand that they care more about hurting President Trump than you do about border security or government shutdowns.  Those favorable polls will change, and their bargaining advantage will quickly evaporate.    

  1. Always remain detached and dignified.

Both sides have violated this cardinal rule, but Democrats' decision to hold the State of the Union address hostage to their demands is unprecedented.  While it makes them a hero to the left, history will record you both as the first woman speaker of the House and the most ruthless, self-serving politician to ever hold that position.

So it wasn't Nancy Pelosi's obstinacy that won the shutdown battle.  Nor was it those endless tears she and the Democrats cried over the furloughed federal workers.  They could have opened the government, though, simply by offering a budget that funded even a portion of the border wall.  It was Donald Trump's reason and compassion that ended the stalemate, not Pelosi's crocodile tears.  Now, if Democrats can stop gloating long enough to begin meaningful negotiations, they may be able to prevent a resumption of the shutdown or some unilateral action by the president.