President Donald Trump said he would “love to see a shutdown” if Democrats don’t agree to his demands on immigration reform, in an off-the-cuff comment that not only undermined his entire party’s messaging on government spending, but also seemed to miss the actual goings-on in Congress.
“If we don’t change it, let’s have a shutdown,” Trump said about immigration during a White House meeting on MS-13 gang violence. “We’ll do a shutdown and it’s worth it for our country. I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of.”
Trump went on to say: “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety, and unrelated but still related, they don’t want to take care of our military, then shut it down. We’ll go with another shutdown.”
Trump’s comment has put Republicans on edge, in part because Congress is currently in the midst of negotiating a spending bill before the government shutdown deadline this Thursday. One Republican lawmaker who was in the room, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), urged Trump to walk away from the “shutdown” rhetoric, saying “both sides have learned that a government shutdown is bad.”
But Trump, who has often taken to this kind of tough talk, either doesn’t know where his party stands on the issues, or doesn’t care. Here are a few thoughts on Trump’s latest comments:
1) For months, Congressional Republicans have spent all their energy to try and persuade Democrats to separate government spending and immigration. When most Democrats voted to shut down the government two weeks ago, Republicans’ took to blaming their Democratic colleagues for holding the government “hostage” over the “unrelated issue of illegal immigration.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said it. But it seems like it’s not only Democrats that Republican leaders need to scold about connecting the policies; their own Republican president is just as happy to tie the two issues.
2) When the three-day government shutdown at the end of January came to an end, McConnell promised Democrats an open immigration debate on the Senate floor that would allow amendments from both sides of the aisle, on the condition that Congress keeps the government open this week. Again, this is part of the Republicans’ efforts to separate spending and immigration negotiations.
In other words, what Trump would “love” to see seems to go against what’s actually going on in Congress.
3) There are also just some mechanical questions about what Trump is proposing here: Does this mean Trump is proposing a government shutdown on March 23 (the date it seems Congress has coalesced around to extend government spending to)? Is he assuming that the immigration bill would be attached to whatever spending bill is proposed at the end of March? If so, what happened to the March 5 “deadline” the Trump administration said they’d fully end DACA by?
4) The Trump administration’s immigration proposal was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans. It calls for a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, $25 billion to fund a southern border wall, substantial curtailing of family immigration, and elimination of the diversity visa lottery program, which some say could gut the legal immigration system. Both Republican leaders in the House and Senate supported the clarity offered by the White House proposal but made no commitments to the actual policy.
5) Meanwhile, debate in Congress over immigration seems to have stalled out in the last two weeks. Already some lawmakers are signaling that they could see Congress punting on DACA for a whole year — an idea, that although still unformed, is unlikely to see the immigration reforms Trump is saying they should “shut down” the government over.
6) At this point, immigration and spending negotiations need to slide toward common ground. But instead, Trump has continued to escalated partisan rancor. During the last shutdown he proposed going “nuclear” and just ending the filibuster to cut Democrats out of negotiations altogether (which also probably wouldn’t work). Now he’s doing it again — right as Congress gears up for an important spending vote and immigration debate.