Trump Just Set Up McConnell and Ryan to Get Pilloried by the GOP Base

Right now all eyes are on the Senate to see whether or not Republicans can pass their horrendous tax cuts before the end of the week. The timing on that is crucial because, if they are successful, the bill will have to be reconciled with the House version and brought back to both bodies for passage. Majority Leader McConnell needs that to happen before the next Senator from Alabama is seated on December 20th, bringing with it a chance that he has one less Republican to work with.

In the meantime, another deadline is fast approaching. If you remember, Trump negotiated a short-term spending bill with Pelosi and Schumer in September. That one runs out a week from Friday on December 8th. Either Congress passes another short-term extension, or they’ll have to negotiate a whole host of issues with Democrats in order to avoid a government shutdown.

For Democrats, that will mean passing some kind of relief for Dreamers, re-authorization of the CHIP program and the bipartisan agreement reached by Murray and Alexander on Obamacare’s insurance subsidies. Republicans will be looking for funding for Trump’s border wall and will perhaps shoot for defunding Planned Parenthood. Into the mix will also be additional funding for disaster relief in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Unlike the tax cuts, a spending bill will require 60 votes for passage, so some sort of compromise with Democrats will be required.

Apparently a meeting between Congressional leaders and Trump was planned for this afternoon at the White House to work on hammering out a compromise. But the president decided to tweet this:

In response, Schumer and Pelosi issued a joint statement.

“Given that the President doesn’t see a deal between Democrats and the White House, we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead.  Rather than going to the White House for a show meeting that won’t result in an agreement, we’ve asked Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to meet this afternoon.  We don’t have any time to waste in addressing the issues that confront us, so we’re going to continue to negotiate with Republican leaders who may be interested in reaching a bipartisan agreement.

“If the President, who already said earlier this year that ‘our country needs a good shutdown,’ isn’t interested in addressing the difficult year end agenda, we’ll work with those Republicans who are, as we did in April.  We look forward to continuing to work in good faith, as we have been for the last month, with our Republican colleagues in Congress to do just that.”

What we have here is Trump undermining the potential for a bipartisan meeting via Twitter. That raises the question of whether his tweet was simply another case of his use of social media to demonstrate that he is an idiot without any self control, or if it was a planned strategy. On the former, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time. So that is a viable explanation for what happened.

I have been loath to credit Trump with the ability to strategize. But in this case, it is a very real possibility. As we’ve seen, a battle is brewing right now between the establishment and the insurgents in the Republican Party. As I’ve pointed out before, Trump’s base is squarely lined up behind the insurgents. He got burned a bit for previously negotiating with Pelosi and Schumer, as well as for endorsing Luther Strange in the Alabama senate race. Trump knows that for his base, it is absolute heresy to negotiate with Democrats on anything. By removing himself from the negotiations, the president could be setting McConnell and Ryan up to be the establishment figures who get pilloried for committing that heresy, while he plays up his bonafides with his base.

It shouldn’t go without notice that, heading into the primaries for the 2018 midterms, Pelosi and Schumer pointed out that they are happy to negotiate with their Republican colleagues in Congress, thereby reinforcing the possibility of Ryan and McConnell becoming targets for the insurgents. It will be interesting to see how they respond. What’s worse for the GOP leaders, a government shutdown or getting dissed for negotiating with Democrats?

UPDATE: It looks like Ryan and McConnell are more worried about the GOP base.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.