Prologue: President Trump began his recurrent tirade against “illegal immigrants” when he first descended the escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 describing them as “rapists and murderers”. During his campaign rallies, he always included the promise of a concrete wall stretching for two thousand miles across the Mexican border to keep out the “thousands of men, women and children” walking up from Central America. He emphasized the “criminals” among them. Before the midterm elections he exaggerated “the caravans approaching as thousands who would flood the country and menace the citizens In the border states.”
When the midterms brought the Blue Wave of Democrats flipping Republican seats in the House of Representatives, Trump stopped talking about the “caravans of dangerous people” getting closer. Television coverage of mothers and children being tear gassed at an entrance point showed brutality at the border. The separation policy of taking children from their parents and holding them in cages in Texas brought an intense response from Democratic members of Congress, and newspaper and TV reporters. The White House was under siege.
White House Meeting, December 12: The president, Pelosi, Speaker of The House and Schumer, Minority Leader of the Senate were to meet in the Oval Office to discuss “The Wall” and the impending government shutdown. Trump invited the Press to attend against the wishes of Pelosi and Schumer.
What followed was a fifteen minute televised exchange rather than a negotiating session between an experienced Congressional leader and the president who is rarely challenged in public –especially by a woman. She called him “Mr. President” and he called her “Nancy”. Chuck Schumer took part and his comments goaded the president to declare, “I would be proud to shut down the government for border security.” The meeting ended with no resolution of the differences between the two sides. Trump’s threat to “shut down the government” had gone viral.
Government Shutdown: At midnight Friday, December 28, the United States Government was shut down by order of President Trump. 800,000 government employees were either furloughed or working without pay. The number ran into the millions with their nuclear and extended families. Congress was closed and the Democrats would not take their new offices until January 3rd. Trump demanded that Congress approve 5 billion $ as a down payment on his border wall.
On January 3, Democrats took control of The House of Representatives and Nancy Pelosi was elected Speaker. “We will vote swiftly to reopen government and show that Democrats will govern responsibly in stark contrast to this chaotic White House”, Pelosi said in a statement. The Democrats were seeking the cooperation of the Senate to affect this change. Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Republican controlled Senate would not bring to a vote the previous motion that had passed 98 to 2 to do that. He said the president would veto it. Therefore, he would not act.
In the weeks that followed, government workers without their paychecks faced mortgage payments, car payments, food needs and ongoing stressful days .
Power Plays: On Wednesday, January 16, Speaker Pelosi asked president Trump to delay his State of The Union address on January 29 citing “security concerns during the government shutdown”. She wrote, “I suggest that we work together to find another suitable date for this address or for you to consider delivering your address in writing to the Congress on January 29.”
Her move was political theater since the State of the Union brings the three branches of government together in the Congressional Meeting Hall. The Supreme Court Members are present along with the Senate and House members. The President speaks with the Vice President sitting behind him. Applause rings out as soon as the president enters and continues throughout his speech. For Trump, the Republicans would applaud as the Democrats would not. For Trump, it was exactly the chance to do his best orating and boasting before millions of Americans watching on television.
For twenty four hours, Trump did not send out a torrent of tweets from the White House although there were leaks that he was furious. Then, Trump struck back. Pelosi was scheduled to lead a Congressional Delegation, ‘codel’ to visit United States troops in Afghanistan on January 17. The purpose was to bring comfort and thank the troops for their service as many codels do. And to reassure NATO in Brussels that the United States would not pull out. It had not been announced publicly for security purposes as most codel trips are planned.
Trump canceled her military flight and wrote a letter to her. “In light of 800,000 great Americans not receiving pay, I’m sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is entirely appropriate. I also feel that it would be better if you are in Washington negotiating with me joining the strong border security movement to end the shutdown.” He added that she still had “the option of flying commercial.”
The members of Congress going on the codel were already in the bus ready to go to the airport when his letter arrived. Reporters suggested to Pelosi that Trump’s cancellation of the trip was in retaliation for postponing the State of the Union. She replied, “ I can’t believe that anyone would be that petty.” Later the Secret Service clarified that flying commercial was out of the question as “too dangerous.”
Saturday, January 19: Trump spoke briefly to the nation from the White House , offering to give the Dreamers of DACA a three year extension in the U.S. in exchange for 5.7 billion dollars to fund The Wall. Pelosi and Schumer both turned it down. Pelosi insisted that the Government Shutdown be ended before negotiations could begin. Schumer said the deal was “hostage taking” and agreed negotiations must come first.
By the next day, it was clear that Trump’s base as well as Ann Coulter and other high profile supporters were enraged by his offer of “Amnesty” to the Dreamers. They voiced their dismay at his betrayal. Senator Mc Connell finally said he would call for a vote on the president’s proposal. He had never agreed to call a vote on the 98 to 2 previous proposal to avoid the shutdown.
Polls show that the American public holds the president responsible for the Shutdown. His approval ratings are down in the thirties. The latest Quinipac poll of voters for 2020 show 57 percent saying they would NOT vote for Trump.
The government shutdown is the longest on record. Every day, the television news shows Americans in long lines at food banks and on gas lines. If Trump refuses to budge, his chances of winning a second term in 2020 may become dimmer by the day.
………………………………………………….Joyce S. Anderson