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Revenge of McConnell’s Mule

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Revenge of McConnell’s Mule

President Trump announces a deal to end the partial government shutdown at the White House, January 25, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque /Reuters)

We were never bullish on the shutdown, so don’t count us among the shocked and outraged that it has produced nothing more than an agreement to negotiate more.

President Trump and the Democrats agreed to reopen parts of the government that had been shut down for three weeks while they talk more about border funding. This obviously is not what the advocates of the shutdown had hoped for. But given that Trump took ownership of the shutdown before it started in his Oval Office showdown with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and the administration didn’t have a clear strategy, the hopes of the advocates were never very realistic. And shutdowns are not a promising tactic anyway. That they don’t work was the point of Mitch McConnell’s country adage that “there isn’t any education in the second kick of a mule.”

If the next round of negotiations take place in a House–Senate conference, Trump should at least get the $1.6 billion for a physical border than the Senate had already approved and perhaps a little more. He should put on the table again the deal he offered last weekend trading extended protection to DACA and TPS recipients for his border priorities. An agreement along those lines would be reasonable enough, but House Democrats may be too allergic to any funding for a physical barrier to go for such a deal.

Since the just-concluding shutdown obviously hurt Trump more than it hurt the Democrats (though there was plenty to criticize about the Democrats’ hypocrisy on border security), and Senate Republicans had begun to peel off, Trump will presumably have less leverage in the new negotiations. Perhaps in an attempt to make up for that, Trump is talking explicitly again of declaring a national emergency and funding the wall through reallocating funds appropriated for other projects. As we have said before, this is, at best, a legally dubious end-run around the congressional spending power. It’s also only a way out of the current fix, rather than a way to win. A district court somewhere would almost certainly block any such move in relatively short order.

The White House would be well-served in taking a clear-eyed view of the current situation. The likely scenarios are getting a quarter-loaf, or a deal where Trump has to give up even more than he offered last weekend. That may be an unsatisfying prospect, but it’s better than a third kick of the mule.

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