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Trump is trying to tweet his way out of the shutdown

It’s not working.

President Donald Trump departs from the White House in January 2019.
President Donald Trump departs from the White House in January 2019.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

President Donald Trump seems to be trying to tweet his way out of the government shutdown. It’s not working.

We are now in the midst of the longest government shutdown in US history as the president and Congress remain at a political impasse over his demand for $5 billion for a border wall. Nine federal agencies, including the departments of Justice and Treasury, and some 800,000 workers have been affected by the shutdown.

Trump tweeted over the weekend that he has a plan to end the shutdown. But there is no obvious such plan in sight. Trump stormed out of a meeting with congressional Democrats last week, decrying it as a “total waste of time,” and has been publicly weighing declaring a national emergency to get his wall built. His strategy seems to be to dig in and demand Democrats concede and, in the meantime, tweet.

The president, also reeling from stories from the New York Times and Washington Post about his dealings with Russia, fired off dozens of tweets over the weekend on a range of matters, including his view of the snow in Washington, DC, gas prices, and Jeff Bezos’s divorce. A number of his tweets also had to do with the shutdown.

“Democrats should come back to Washington and work to end the Shutdown, while at the same time ending the horrible humanitarian crisis at our Southern Border. I am in the White House waiting for you!” Trump tweeted on Saturday.

He also declared that Democrats could “solve” the shutdown in 15 minutes and encouraged voters to call Democratic lawmakers.

“I’m in the White House, waiting,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “The Democrats are everywhere but Washington as people await their pay. They are having fun and not even talking!”

And he kept at it on Monday morning.

The “sit in the White House and tweet” tactic is one Trump has been employing since the shutdown began in December. He stayed in Washington instead of traveling to his Mar-a-Lago resort over the holidays and lamented being alone in the White House; and over the weekend, he denied a report that the White House was in chaos and without a shutdown strategy because “there’s almost nobody in the [White House] but me.”

If this is Trump’s plan, it’s not working

Despite his claims otherwise, he appears to have no clear strategy for a way out of the current situation. Politico’s Nancy Cook reported that over the weekend, as Trump said he had a shutdown plan, advisers and staff admitted they had no idea what he was talking about.

Last week, he tried some things beyond tweeting — namely, he delivered an Oval Office address and traveled to the US-Mexico border in an attempt to shore up support for the wall and push the narrative of a border crisis. But according to the Times, even he didn’t believe in the strategy, saying in an off-the-record lunch with television anchors ahead of his address that it wasn’t “going to change a damn thing.”

On Saturday, he called in to Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show to talk about the shutdown and Russia. But he isn’t winning over new audiences with Fox News; he’s just preaching to the choir.

Trump has sought to cast blame on Democrats for the shutdown, but polling shows that more Americans believe he and Republicans are at fault. Prior to the shutdown in December, Trump said in a meeting with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security” and that he would “take the mantle” for it.

Trump is no longer so happy to foot the blame for the shutdown — last week, he declared the “buck stops with everybody” on the matter — because, at least in part, it seems he has few ideas for finding a way out. He told Pirro on Saturday that he’s tweeting about being in the White House so much because he likes the “symbol” of him being there. “I like the symbol because I am ready to sign. And they’re not. They’re not,” he said.

Both the Senate and House have passed separate bills that would reopen the government.

Trump might not be so great at making deals

For someone who has banked much of his public persona on being a dealmaker, Trump is struggling to make a deal here. If anything, he seems to be acting as more of an obstacle to any agreement than a facilitator.

As Vox’s Ezra Klein recently noted, a lot of the problem is that lawmakers don’t think they can trust Trump. He’s tentatively made agreements with Democrats before, only to later back out. Even before the current shutdown, Trump seemed to be on board with a bill that didn’t include new border wall funding, only to later change his mind. Per Klein:

Over and over again, Democrats have shaken hands on an immigration deal with Trump, only to see him abandon it as soon as they leave the room. Nor is this ancient history. Trump went back on his word during the negotiations that led to the current shutdown. That was less than a month ago.

Since arriving at the White House, Trump has tried to do a lot of his governing by tweet, employing a bully-pulpit-by-social-media strategy. The current status of the government shutdown highlights the limits of that tactic and how it can be detrimental. Whatever progress Trump might make in negotiations could be thrown into upheaval at any given moment with a new tweet.

The president finds himself increasingly backed into a corner over the shutdown, and he can’t tweet his way out of it, try as he might.