Donald Trump is miserable. Not just in the generic way that the president’s infinite void of decency and desperate need for approval always makes him unhappy, but in a very specific way: on the very anniversary of his inauguration, Trump and the Republican Party have managed to shut down the government despite holding all the levers of power.
Trump expected to be hosting an anniversary party at Mar-A-Lago today, illegally using the power of presidency to enrich himself at $100,000 a ticket. He may yet go to Florida, but his departure was at least delayed as the Senate negotiation to keep the government open ground to an embarrassing halt. Many government functions will halt and paychecks will be indefinitely delayed, slowing an economy that marks the only bright spot in an otherwise disastrous presidency. The president is furious.
The standoff is an unprecedented display of open hostage taking by Republicans in the service of ethnic cleansing, white supremacy and hurting the poor. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it is not. Senate Leader McConnell openly presented Democrats a monstrous Sophie’s Choice: either allow the children’s health insurance program to expire and eliminate healthcare coverage for 9 million kids, or give up the last last real hope of a legislative solution for Dreamers after President Trump capriciously terminated the DACA program. House Republicans passed a cruel bill that they knew had no chance of even getting 50 Republican votes in the Senate, much less the 60 bipartisan votes that are required. Among its monstrous provisions was criminalizing Dreamers if they failed to maintain an income in excess of 125% of the poverty line. There was never any chance that such a bill would be accepted by the Senate, but Speaker Ryan caved to the Freedom Caucus, punted on his responsibilities and left the Senate holding the bag.
It’s unclear how this standoff will end, or how it can end. It could go on for a very long time because neither side in Congress has enough incentive to back down. Basic moral values demand that Democrats insist on extending CHIP and protecting DACA kids, and the Democratic base naturally demands it as well. There is no reason whatsoever to deport those who were brought to America as young children, speak English fluently, have no serious criminal record and have known no other country except as a matter of racial cleansing. There isn’t even a “clash of civilizations” cultural imperialist argument with strong racist overtones for doing it. It’s simply pure blood-and-soil racial determinism, a worldview openly shared by Fox News and its guests.
Republicans in Congress, for their part, are more afraid of the impact of hardcore racists on the far right in Republican primaries and in terms of base turnout general elections, than in the public opinion reaction from persuadable moderate voters. Absent weeks or months of public pressure, Congressional Republicans aren’t likely to budge.
The only person who can break the logjam is the President. Donald Trump could end this standoff singlehandedly by insisting on a continuing resolution that includes both CHIP funding and reasonable DACA legislation.
The problem is that Trump never backs down from a confrontation–except to cut-and-run and declare bankruptcy, an option available to a real estate maven but not to a president. Trump’s self-image cannot admit a defeat. Democrats and even some moderate Republicans will not cave on DACA. So now what?
Trump can easily resolve the impasse and declare victory at the same time, simply by keeping his many promises to protect Dreamers and then calling it a win. We know from various sources that Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer had essentially come to an agreement on Friday, only to have Trump change his mind after talking to his far-right advisers like the odious Stephen Miller. Schumer even reportedly offered border wall funding in exchange, a provision central to the president’s priorities and one that would be very frustrating to the liberal base.
For all his overt racism, we know that Trump has long has a soft spot for Dreamers. Eliminating protections for them would constitute not a victory for Trump, but a capitulation to his party’s farthest right wing. Protecting them would not be acquiescing to Democrats, but rather embracing his long-since-abandoned campaign identity as a different kind of Republican willing to make deals and upend established party orthodoxies. Trump could, for once, put aside the role of Racist-in-Chief that has caused him to tumble precipitously in public opinion polls, and embrace instead the Dealmaker-in-Chief persona that helped get him elected.
All it would take is standing up to the likes of Stephen Miller and proving, if only just for once, that he’s actually in charge of something beyond his choice of tee times and fairway drivers.