Republican and Democratic negotiators remain in disagreement over a handful of issues as they work toward a final spending accord but these lawmakers – not firebrands but experienced politicians fired with a determination to find a compromise – are motivated most of all by firm, unwavering agreement on a completely separate matter.
No matter what they get in these negotiations, no matter what they give up in these discussions, and no matter what U.S. President Donald Trump says, does, orders or tweets, there cannot be a second government shutdown this winter.
The record-shattering government shutdown that ended Jan. 25 with a short-term spending agreement was ruinous for the President, who emerged from the episode looking stubborn and self-consumed. It was calamitous for the Republicans, who had hoped their return to the White House after the Barack Obama interregnum would seal their image as the natural party of governance in the United States. And it was damaging for the Democrats, who had hoped their new redoubt of power in the House of Representatives would provide them a platform to persuade Americans to allow them once again to occupy the commanding heights of American government.
Instead, the shutdown soiled everyone with even a peripheral involvement in the debacle – and steeled their determination to find a way out of the ultimate escape room of American politics. And like the escape rooms that have sprung up across the globe, the effort to fashion a long-term spending agreement before the Friday deadline and deal with Mr. Trump’s demands for a border wall will require luck, reward creative thinking and celebrated teamwork.
All that plus a dash of realism. By Monday afternoon, the signs were not hopeful. Democrats and Republican lawmakers negotiating to find a way through the border security impasse said talks remained stalled. This is the storm before the calm. Averting shutdown 2.0 will require compromises on all sides.
“We here in Canada have always been able to sort of move on from our disagreements,” said Marc Garneau, member of Parliament for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount in Quebec. “Our governments haven’t been paralyzed the way the Americans have.”
The White House – eyeing the 2020 presidential election against energized Democrats – knows it won’t get funding for the border wall at the levels Mr. Trump insists on. The Democrats – acknowledging they can’t be identified with a completely open border – know they won’t escape granting some money for border security. The Republicans – opposed to their President on Syria and horrified by the prospect Mr. Trump might declare a national emergency to ferret out funds for this border wall – just want the whole nightmare to end.
“There’s not going to be another government shutdown because it didn’t work the last time and there’s no reason to try it a second time,” said Craig Shirley, a Republican political consultant. “Even if the President wanted to do it, he wouldn’t have the support of congressional Republicans. The public is completely against this and politicians know that it’s never good to go against public sentiment.”
Besides, the President faces a vital week ahead, with the United States at the centre of the diplomatic reaction to the upheaval in Venezuela and with continued international uncertainty following Mr. Trump’s disagreement with his own intelligence officers on their perspectives on Iran, North Korea and the Islamic State. At the same time, important trade negotiations with the Chinese are continuing and an important summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is scheduled to begin only a dozen days after the President’s Feb. 15 deadline for resolving the budget imbroglio.
It is, in short, no time for the United States to project divisions abroad or to suggest the country’s governmental organs are in suspension or, worse yet, in upheaval.
As it develops, the White House likely will be able to say it got border security, the Republicans will get a chance to move the debate to issues far more congenial to the suburban and female voters they need to court in 2020, and the Democrats will get to say they prevented the President from erecting a structure that was a physical affront to the generations-long American tradition of openness to the “tired” and “poor” immigrants from distant shores celebrated in a beloved Emma Lazarus poem that is excerpted on the Statue of Liberty.
Everybody loses enough for everybody to declare victory, and to breathe a sigh of relief.
But nobody – not the White House, which underestimated the resolve of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; not the Republicans, who found they could not hide from the developing political storm; not the Democrats, who discovered control of one house on Capitol Hill does not a government make – will emerge unscathed, unshaken or unaffected.
That does not account for the damage the United States already has suffered abroad and especially in its home hemisphere, where Latin American refugees with legitimate fears for their safety and with hopes that hard work would win them a welcome in the United States are frustrated and bewildered – and where Canadians are looking with morbid fascination at a giant neighbour that embraces the notion that it is a haven for refugees and yet seems to be embracing a new xenophobia.
The result of the past several weeks of tumult, broken faith with a cultivated legacy of openness to immigrants and unpaid federal workers unable to pay their household bills, was further erosion of American status around the globe.