The Politics of the Government Shutdown

author
Dr. Louis Perron
blog post louis

The shutdown in the U.S. is over – at least temporarily. It is clear that Madame Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took President Trump to town. After the longest shutdown in history, he didn’t get anything that he would not have gotten on day one. So why did the president give in now?

Last Thursday, the Senate voted down two measures to open up the government: A Republican and a Democratic one. While only one Democrat voted for the Republican proposal, six Republicans voted for the Democratic proposal. In other words: The Republicans had what we call a break in the ranks. The dissatisfaction of Republican lawmakers with the shutdown became even more apparent when listening to their speeches. Bipartisanship and the ability to come up with a solution to protect the borders were common themes. It almost seemed like they couldn’t wait to get this shutdown done and over with. And there is a good reason for that: There is indeed a lot of common ground on the issue of the border between the two parties. Many Democrats have voted for stronger border protection in the past. Maybe it will just be called enhanced fencing and not a wall, in the end.

On Friday then, air traffic was delayed at several major airports. As a result of this, the consequences of the shutdown were suddenly felt by more people than just the federal employees who didn’t get their paychecks. And most importantly, according to the average of polls by realclearpolitics, Trump’s approval rating continuously dropped. It became clearer and clearer that the public mostly blames Trump for the shutdown. In the end, it probably became apparent to him that there is no way out of this without any damage. So better do it sooner than later. I think that President Trump has a great ability to smell weakness in negotiations and exploit it to his advantage. But he is clearly not used to negotiating with a peer. Let’s not forget that Congress is actually article number one of The United States Constitution.

As for Nancy Pelosi, politically, this was the best thing that could happen to her. When she was elected speaker of the house a few weeks ago, she had fifteen people of her own caucus voting against her, and she won back the gavel with just four votes more than needed. Now she was able to rally her caucus against a common enemy and showed them why experience on the job matters. She clearly took the president to town on that one – and probably enjoyed every minute of it.