Will Congressional Republicans Remain on Trump’s Sinking Ship?

During Trump’s catastrophic Oval Office meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, the soon-to-be Speaker challenged the president to bring up his border wall funding in the House, claiming he doesn’t have the votes, even before Democrats take control in January. As it turns out, she was right.

House Republicans last week considered putting legislation on the floor that would offer $5 billion for a border wall as Trump has demanded. But Hill leadership eventually told the president that there were not enough votes to pass it, as two top Democrats had already told Trump in a remarkable Oval Office encounter last week.

In response, Jonathan Cohn suggested a new rule for politicians: “Never start a land war in Asia. Never get into a vote counting war with Nancy Pelosi.”

However, the man who prides himself on being an expert in “the art of the deal” dug his hole even deeper with this:

TRUMP: And I’ll tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.

As any novice negotiator could have warned, this is the result of his bluster:

Confident that they will skirt blame for any government shutdown, Democrats have become more hardened in their resolve to deny Trump the additional border security money that he called for in a string of weekend tweets.

But it gets even worse. Congressional Republicans have no idea what the president will ultimately agree to and there are no plans to avoid a government shutdown.

Following a meeting of Senate Republican leaders Monday evening, Cornyn said that “if there is” a plan to avoid a shutdown, “I’m not aware of it.”…

Senior Senate Republicans held a series of meetings Monday in the office of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) but had little insight as to what Trump would actually do — or sign.

Asked what kind of spending bill Trump would support, Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) responded: “We don’t know that.”

A Monday evening meeting of McConnell and his top deputies also yielded little, with senior Republicans unaware of where exactly the White House stands. During the meeting, McConnell told other GOP senators that he had no information, and — referring to the White House — said “we’re waiting for them,” according to a senator in attendance.

Since government funding legislation is supposed to originate in the House, it appears that McConnell might be content to lay this one at Paul Ryan’s doorstep for the Speaker’s last hurrah.

The Senate has no plans to take up a government spending measure before the House does, and pressure may begin to build on lawmakers and Trump only as Washington nears the Friday shutdown deadline.

In the end, Trump has set up a scenario where the government could shut down over funding for his wall and ensured that the entire country knows that he is responsible. Congressional Republicans are very aware of the fact that the blame will extend to them, unless they distance themselves from the president’s ultimatum. That is not something they have been willing to do in the past.

It is still very possible that Trump will cave on this one—all while suggesting he didn’t and blaming others—but you have to wonder how long congressional Republicans are going to be willing to tie their fate to the impulsive whims of the disgruntled toddler who now occupies the White House.

That question becomes more salient with news from a trusted GOP pollster.

President Trump’s relentless focus on immigration in the midterm elections cost the Republican Party control of the House of Representatives, according to a blistering after-action review produced a by leading GOP pollster.

The findings from David Winston raise questions about Trump’s political position heading into 2020. That’s because the issue he most often discusses on the stump, border security and the migrant caravan, were big losers with critical voting blocs, and largely responsible for the late-breaking Democratic wave that swept Republicans from power in the House, according to Winston.

Winston’s data is influential because he is a longtime polling and policy analyst for Republican leaders in Congress…Winston, a veteran strategist who advised Newt Gingrich during his tenure as speaker of the House in the 1990s, produces a postmortem after every major election.

Whether or not you assume that Winston’s conclusions have any merit, it is the information congressional Republicans are receiving from a trusted source. To the extent they listen to him, this information could be critical in considering their prospects for re-election in 2020.

In the run-up to the 2018 midterms, much was made of the structural hurdles Democrats faced in the Senate with so many of their members up for re-election. When it comes to 2020, that table flips with Republicans having 22 seats to defend. A president who isn’t interested in appealing to any voters beyond his white xenophobic base and throws temper tantrums rather than govern could be a huge liability to Republican Senators in states like Colorado, Maine, Iowa, Arizona, and North Carolina, which have all be trending at least purple if not blue. Even Majority Leader McConnell could be in trouble in Kentucky.

All of that is true even before we get to the mounds of investigations the president faces on everything from his campaign to his administration to his businesses.

Beyond Donald Trump’s ignorance, mendacity, and criminality, the most vexing part of the last two years has been watching congressional Republicans not only fail to hold the president and his administration accountable, but to support him in almost everything he says and does. What I have just provided is evidence about why that is increasingly becoming a liability to their careers, which could be the last straw. Given their lack of interest in governing on behalf of the people, Republicans have demonstrated over and over again that their only concern is to maintain power. Will they eventually break with the president when he continues to be a liability rather than an asset? We might soon find out.

UPDATE: It will come as no surprise to anyone that Trump caved on his threat to shut the government down over funding for his wall, claiming that he’ll find “other ways” to pay for it.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.