Why Trump went for a 21-day suspension of the partial shutdown, and what happens next

President Trump’s Rose Garden declaration of an end to the partial shutdown was a tactical retreat, a rejection of a Little Big Horn strategy. He found himself in a no-win situation, and rather than bear unacceptable costs, has redefined the contest on better terms: sending the issue to a House and Senate conference committee charged with coming up with a deal that prevents a resumption of the shutdown, and provides border security, something that Democrats say they believe is important.

Making the best of a bad situation. Rose Garden speech January 25, 2019

Cropped from Fox News, via YouTube

It is important that Nancy Pelosi declined to rule out funding for a physical barrier. We do not know what was said in the process of reaching an agreement to re-start the normal operations of the federal givenrment for the next 21 days.

Democrats naturally are gloating, calling it a surrender and admonishing Trump to “learn his lesson” and acknowledge his defeat by the wise and all-knowing Nancy Pelosi.  This certainly gives them a sugar high while providing evidence for future use that their priority is humiliating Trump rather than attending to the needs of border security.

Nonetheless, as President Trump correctly noted in the Rose Garden address, it was an “agreement.” The Dems agreed to procedural rules that can be used to make the case for border barrier construction. The deal will be hashed out in the conference committee, which will then submit the same legislation to both Houses of Congress, with the 21-day clock ticking. Either chamber can modify the legislation, but that happens under the gun of the ticking clock.

Trump’s stonewall on the shutdown had to end because a choke point had been discovered by the opposition (a group that includes Congressional Democrats and government employee unions along with the media): commercial aviation. It was obvious when the Air Traffic Controllers demonstrated their ability to stymie air travel at the nation’s busiest airports that President Trump, having declared ownership of the shutdown, would be blamed for strangling the economy, and was on the hook for any air traffic control disaster that might, God forbid, happen. The Executive VP of the Air Traffic Controllers Association went on CNN to blame Trump for delays and safety issues. With the Super Bowl next weekend in the city with the world’s busiest airport, not only would business and family travel be impaired, the functioning of the nation’s premier sporting event was in peril.  

It may be coincidence, but this kill shot job action occurred in the wake of extraordinary signs that House Democrats were wavering in their support for Pelosi’s “not one dollar” opposition to a border wall – while the government is (partially) shut down. This gives Trump’s allies something to work with. Steny Hoyer, second-ranking House Democrat, already has conceded that a physical barrier is part of the solution – just not while the government is shut down.  The Democrats now own the House majority because new members have been elected from historically GOP-leaning districts, and many of those freshmen fear facing voters in November next year and being painted as Pelosi’s pawns who prevented a border barrier desired by their constituents.

The Senate members of the conference committee have been announced:

The Republicans are Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Roy Blunt of Missouri and John Hoeven of North Dakota, and the Democrats are Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Jon Tester of Montana.

Tester won re-election in Montana, but cannot afford to be too far left. Leahy is the biggest camera hog in the group, and Dick Durbin is a chronic schemer. None of the Republicans are among the highest profiles in the Senate..

I have not been able to locate a full list of the House members, but Rep. Chuck Fleishmann, the Republican ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee is on it.

It is possible that the conference committee will not be able to come up with anything that satisfies both parties, in which case the partial shutdown resumes, but this time with the Democrats shown to be willing to shut down the government in order to prevent a border barrier. Trump will have met their demand to resume government funding, and they will have refused to meet him halfway. And President Trump will be delivering the State of the Union address at a date to be determined, but before the shutdown might resume. This will allow the highest possible platform for President Trump to comment on the negotiations, with Nancy Pelosi sitting behind him.

Will the Democrats refuse to give Trump funds for something his base would accept as a reasonable start on the wall he promised? They certainly might, in which case the government will partially shut down again, with federal workers having received their back pay, but facing another bout of financial stringency. Would Trump then pull the trigger on a national emergency declaration?  If he does, the Democrats will find a judge in the Ninth Circuit who believes that a district court judge has the power to overrule the statutory authority clearly granted to the president to declare a national emergency. What happens then? I think it is quite possible that the Trump administration will appeal directly to the SCOTUS, bypassing the Ninth in the name of a national emergency. He might even decide to take a stand aginst the new concept of district court jurisdiction over the entire United States.

I have a guess, based on the fact that Trump has not deployed insulting nicknames for either Schumer or Pelosi. I suspect that in the discussions that led to the agreement to set up a conference committee both sides agreed that another shutdown was in nobody’s interest, and that a compromise would benefit both parties. If I am wrong, the Democrats will be going to the mattresses over a barrier free border, a position that may please Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but would not help the Dems win in 2020.