President Trump fancies himself as a master dealmaker. Tuesday afternoon he illustrated that he hasn’t even reached the apprentice level. Hopefully he learned from the lessons Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and soon to again be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi taught him on live TV. Let’s explore.
The meeting was scheduled be a private negotiating session and take place in the Oval Office; Trump, Schumer and Pelosi. The subject was finding a way to keep the government’s lights on past December 21st. Trump thinks the camera loves him and decided to keep the press in the room. One of the first lessons you learn in business is that you can’t negotiate in the press; not if you want to resolve anything anyway. Trump thought he would turn the entire thing into a reality TV episode. That he did and it backfired on him!
Pelosi tried to save Trump from himself and on several occasions invited him to dismiss the press so they could negotiate in private (which may have been productive). Trump was obviously beyond help; perhaps he was operating within the Donald Dome.
There was also a fourth “principal” in the room, Vice President Mike Pence. If all we had was an audio record of the meeting we would not know that. Pence never uttered a sound. He just sat there, occasionally pivoting in his chair with that earnest look on his face he always displays when lying. Perhaps he really is just an empty suit capable of only one (I assume) well-rehearsed facial expression. That may be among the reasons he beat Chris Christie out for the Veep slot; he doesn’t look as much like a hostage.
Trump inflexibly insisted that he needed funding for his wall in any continuing resolution (CR) he would sign. The Democrats (and it appears a significant number of Congressional Republicans) are unwilling to just waste money on an asinine project that will do nothing to solve the immigration problem. Trump kept repeating the “mantra” “Border security”. This is telling on two ways. First, it proves Trump is actually trainable to the point that he can repeat a simple phrase (how mainstream Republican of him). More importantly I think it tells us both where Trump can be maneuvered to go and the way he will frame the “victory” he will inevitably claim with his base.
I feel that part of the eventual resolution of this manufactured crisis will be some additional funding for a non-wall component of border security. By the way, whatever happened to Mexico paying for the wall?
Trump and Pelosi got into a bit of a scrum over whether Trump had sufficient votes in the House to pass a CR of his liking. Trump insisted he could do so in a matter of minutes any time he wanted to. Pelosi told him he didn’t have the votes. I have to admit I do not know for certain who is correct. This I do know, in my lifetime there have been two people who were head and shoulders the best Congressional vote counters. Lyndon Johnson is dead and the other is Nancy Pelosi. I’ll bet on Pelosi being correct!
Trump kept touting all sorts of “facts” (more commonly known as lies) about the wall he has already built. In his defense it may exist in his mind; however it does not exist in reality. In Wednesday’s Washington Post one of the feature stories was entitled: Fact-checking Trump’s rowdy powwow with Pelosi and Schumer. In short Trump’s “facts” didn’t fare well in Salvatore Rizzo and Meg Kelly’s article where they were juxtaposed with reality.
Schumer let Pelosi carry most of the day but landed two not so subtle punches. He immediately saw that Trump wanted to turn what was supposed to be a private negotiating session into a made for TV spectacle. For the most part instead of facing Trump, Schumer played to the cameras effectively upstaging Trump at his own game. Of more substance, Schumer got Trump to make a rookie mistake. Trump actually claimed responsibility for the shutdown if it in fact occurs; (more on that below.) Trump said, “I will take the mantle of shutting it down, I am proud to shut down the government over border security, Chuck.” Schumer just shook his head and smirked at that remark knowing he had won a possible future battle and very possibly with it the 2020 elections.
This article would be incomplete without a final tribute to the impact the late George H.W. Bush has had on this situation. Bush’s passing moved the deadline from December 7th to December 21st which in my opinion changed the entire ballgame. I was not a Bush 41 fan but this much I will say for him, unlike Trump he respected the Oval Office and the office of the presidency.
So, the question on your mind is probably: Where do we go from here? I can’t see Trump shutting the government down just before Christmas. I think we will end up with either a very short term CR expiring sometime in January or perhaps February with, as I said above, a bit more spending for non-wall border security. The “Grinch headlines” would just write themselves and I don’t think Congressional Republicans will go there. If necessary they will override a Trump veto and Trump can’t afford for that dam to break.
Schumer and Pelosi were like professors of policy and negotiation; my fear is that Trump doesn’t have the capability to learn.
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