Dysfunction and petulance: Longest shutdown in U.S. history

By: Connor McNairn, Columnist

Though large swaths of his supporters seem to have forgotten, the president quipped on Dec. 11, “I am proud to shutdown the government for border security… I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”

According to President Donald Trump and many Republican members of Congress, security along the U.S.-Mexico border is unachievable without a wall of separation built high enough to keep out Mexican and Central American immigrants. A famous campaign promise, the border wall has of late been at the center of a contentious and highly damaging government shutdown – one that has now spanned a month, setting a record over those prior.

Eight days after Trump owned the shutdown (during a bizarre live television feud with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer), the Senate fulfilled its legislative duties and unanimously passed a temporary spending bill, effectively kicking partial government funding down the road for another two months.  

In fact, before the Senate passed the Dec. 19 spending bill, Congress received assurances from the White House that President Trump would be willing to sign a temporary spending measure without his desired $5.7 billion for a border wall. When the time came for Trump to follow through, however, he recoiled, rendering seven government agencies unfunded and leaving nearly a quarter of the government shut down.

Of course, in the U.S., a bill does not always need the president’s blessing to become law. While Trump was unwilling to sign the unanimous Senate bill, had then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy forced a vote in the House of Representatives on the bill, it is likely the temporary legislation would have made it to Trump’s desk. And even if Trump subsequently vetoed the law, Congress, with a two-thirds vote in each chamber, would have had the power to override the veto and keep the government open.

Unsurprisingly, however, given their consistent fealty to the president, leaders Ryan, McCarthy, and McConnell refused to challenge President Trump over the funding discrepancy, and the nation has since suffered from the effects of partial shutdown for a month.

Since the shutdown commenced on Dec. 22, national parks have been trashed, federal workers have lined up in charity lines to get food for their families, Speaker Pelosi has postponed President Trump’s State of the Union Address, and President Trump has even cancelled an American commission’s (including Pelosi) trip abroad to meet with NATO allies, visit American troops and collect critical intelligence.

The United States is unique in its tendency to succumb to government shutdowns, as its internal gridlock and institutional opposition construct lay a perfect foundation for dysfunction. Certainly, then, given the current realities of our politics, the Republicans are not solely to blame for the current government shutdown.

Both President Trump and congressional Republicans have the right to push for wall funding; similarly, congressional Democrats have equal rights to refuse these demands, as a southern border wall remains relatively unpopular among the American people. What’s more, the data does not support President Trump and Republicans’ claims that a border wall would effectively halt violence, drug use and illegal immigration in America.

On Jan. 19, President Trump announced that he would be willing to both extend Dreamer protections and visas for TPS holders for three years, as well as allocate an additional $800 million for humanitarian relief efforts on the border in exchange for wall funding at $5.7 billion.

While Trump’s newest offer may represent a willingness to negotiate to some, it is necessary to note that his administration has systematically attempted to undercut DACA and visa protections since its 2017 inception.t

As political battles continue to wage over government funding, there is no clear end in sight.  And so long as this remains true, nearly one million federal workers in the U.S. will continue to work without pay, struggle to make payments, and generally struggle to maintain their lifestyles.  

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