WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump has once again threatened to shut down the government if Democrats don’t give in to his demands for border wall funding this fall ― but Senate Republicans are already showing signs of uneasiness with the president’s strategy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) largely ducked questions about Trump’s latest threats Tuesday, telling reporters that Republicans want to achieve what the president wants on wall funding, but avoiding questions about the fundamental dynamics of the situation ― specifically, Democrats’ unwillingness to give in on money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I’m hoping we’re going to be able to resolve this issue,” McConnell said, without clarifying whether he meant resolving the strategic difference with the president or the wall funding issue with Democrats.
Trump seems increasingly convinced that he can win a shutdown standoff ― and despite the November midterms approaching, he doesn’t seem to care about the election consequences anymore.
At this point, two months before government funding actually runs out, Trump has plenty of time to flip-flop on his calls for a shutdown. But his calls to let the funding run out if he doesn’t get his wall are already making Republicans uneasy.
Senate appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters Monday night that the president was “making his point” regarding the wall. “But in the meantime we’re trying to fund the government to [prevent] any shutdown,” he said.
Asked if he thought shutting down the government would help Republicans get wall funding, Shelby said he didn’t think anybody would benefit in that scenario. “That’s a no-win for both parties,” he said.
The longest-serving senator, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), told reporters Monday that he’s not taking Trump’s shutdown threats seriously, and other Senate Republicans don’t seem to be panicking quite yet.
When HuffPost asked Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) whether a shutdown would, as Trump seems to think, help Republicans get wall funding, Cornyn said he didn’t think so. And the No. 3 Senate Republican, GOP conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), also said he didn’t think a shutdown would be helpful.
“Maybe it’s a negotiating point,” Thune said of the president’s tweets.
But ironically, Trump’s calls for a shutdown ― and his willingness to take ownership of a shutdown on Twitter ― might make it even harder for Republicans to play hardball on government funding and a wall.
If Republicans know they’ll be the ones taking the blame for a shutdown, particularly a shutdown one month before midterm elections, shuttering government over wall money isn’t going to be a very popular idea in the GOP conference.
Trump may think it’s the only way he can get wall funding, but Republicans could at least persuade him to accept a short-term appropriations bill, which would allow them to delay such a fight until after the elections.
Already Republicans acknowledge that Congress probably won’t be able to fund the government entirely through the normal appropriations process, potentially requiring a bill to keep open the parts of government that are not funded through regular spending measures.
But there is a reckoning coming, and at some point, either Trump will have to eat his words ― or congressional Republicans will.
When McConnell was asked about Trump’s shutdown threats on Monday, he said he was “optimistic we can avoid a government shutdown.”
Someone is going to be wrong.