Saturday is the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and you must admit that he’s managed a pretty radical transformation of America. He’s turned his White House into the location of a horrible reality show. He’s turned Twitter into a weapon of mass destruction. He’s made the United States the most hated country on the planet (again).
Now he’s managed to turn the legislative budgeting process into a ridiculous hostage-taking action movie, complete with colorful henchmen and elaborate traps.
On Friday, at midnight, the federal government will go dark because Republicans can’t figure out how to pay their bills. In a fair, rational world, Republicans would admit that it’s their own party’s inability to realize that 2 plus 2 does not equal “Make America great again” that caused this problem in the first place. However, we’re not in a rational world anymore. We’re in a world where accused pedophiles quote Jesus and run for office, a man who calls protesting black NFL players sons of bitches and quotes Martin Luther King Jr., and Cardi B has more top 10 hits than Beyoncé.
The Republicans want to hold 850,000 government employees, 800,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals-program recipients and 9 million kids in the Child Health Insurance Program hostage until their demands are met. They insist that the Democratic Party must vote yes on a new budget that funds the government only until Feb. 16, ignores DACA and shortchanges CHIP. The only way the GOP will even touch DACA is if the bill includes funding for Trump’s “white nationalist climbing wall”—otherwise the government fails and the kids get nothing.
I’m convinced that the Democrats—who, up until now, have shown the negotiating skills of a drunk frat boy in Tijuana—must’ve watched a TNT marathon of Olympus Has Fallen or sought the hostage-negotiating counsel of Denzel Washington. (Seriously, next to Jesse Jackson, what black man has saved more people in distress? From that early scene in Ricochet to Man on Fire, John Q and Inside Man—hell, he killed Stringer Bell—I’m pretty sure Denzel could balance the budget, fix immigration and disarm North Korea in 90 minutes. My man!) Either way, Democrats will have to figure out how to stand up to the Republicans’ demands. The only question now is, Who. Blinks. First?
It’s important to point out how we got to this standoff on top of a windswept mountain, with both parties giving speeches about what they not gon’ do. Basically, the Republican Party doesn’t know how to govern. Even though Republicans run everything in Washington, D.C.—the presidency, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the kiosk in Union Station, the Panera in the Capitol Cafeteria—they can’t even get their own party to agree on a long-term budget for government funding.
The DACA program was ended by Trump, creating a conflict where there was none. The CHIP program expired under GOP leadership; they could fix it in one vote, but they won’t. Since Republicans can’t get their own house in order, they’ll grab CHIP and DACA at gunpoint, hoping to force the Democrats to make up for votes they can’t sway in their own party.
The problem is, many Republicans and Democrats are tired of voting for short-term budgets because it wreaks havoc on federal agencies. It’s hard to plan for disaster relief when your credit card might stop working every six weeks. When the last continuing resolution was passed in the House and the Senate in late December, Republicans were mad that it didn’t give more money to the military. Democrats were angry that it didn’t provide a solution for the 800,000 DACA recipients, and members of Congress who actually have fully beating hearts and functional souls were unhappy that 9 million kids might go without CHIP funding in the coming decade.
On Thursday, Republicans in the House managed to pass a short-term spending bill, but passing it in the Senate is another matter. In order to reach the 60 votes needed, every Republican has to vote for the funding bill and about 11 Democrats have to switch sides. Democrats have been screaming “Release the hostages”—aka calling for a clean DACA bill and CHIP funding—for months now. And Republicans have responded by cocking the trigger: Drop DACA, accept less funding for CHIP, pay for the border wall, give us all your Netflix and Amazon.com passwords, and we’ll have a deal. (The Dems only agreed to the last one.)
I’d like to give credit to Democrats for being principled and holding their ground for kids, but this situation is also because of GOP incompetence. The reason Democrats aren’t folding like MacBooks is that Republicans are lousy hostage takers. They’re like those Somali pirates in Captain Phillips. You aren’t really in charge if you can’t drive the boat, and Republicans can’t even find the steering wheel.
Despite numerical majorities in both houses of Congress, the Republicans only look like they’re in control of the situation. First, Democrats know that even if they voted for a continuing resolution, Republicans would find some way to gut CHIP down the road in a future budget. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the negotiators, also know that President “Shithole” is not about to let 800,000 Hispanic kids stay in America; he ended DACA because he is a white nationalist and doesn’t want those kids in America.
If Trump actually wanted a policy solution with “love,” he could simply reinstate DACA and work with Congress on a solution. But he won’t because he doesn’t care. When the government shuts down (and it looks all but assured at this point), the party that runs everything in the country is going to get blamed, not the Democrats.
Most good movie negotiators figure out the obvious: The hostages are dead anyway. There’s no reason to negotiate. No one will blame you if the serial killer blows up the building and everybody inside because anyone who’s watching knows that you’re dealing with a crazy person. A government shutdown on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration is the best weapon the Democrats have, a campaign commercial that writes itself. Sometimes the best way to win is to sit back and let the other side lose.