By Lisa Stapel
The government reopened Friday after a 35-day shutdown, leading many Republicans to suggest that President Donald Trump had caved under pressure and had received nothing of benefit in return. Critics noted that the bill passed to reopen the government did not contain the $5.7 billion Trump demanded to construct a border wall. In fact, it didn’t contain any wall funding.
“This is in no way a concession,” Trump tweeted. And for once, he’s right. We all know Donald Trump by now: do you think he would build a two-year campaign on his “build a wall” promise, hold the government hostage for 35 days to obtain the funding, and then just give up? Of course not. He is just hitting the pause button. Why? Four words: State of the Union.
The government closed Dec. 22, and as the days went on, the pressure to end the shutdown mounted. 800,000 federal workers were furloughed or working without pay, yet Trump refused to budge. It was having the privilege of delivering the State of the Union address revoked that hit him where it hurt: his pride.
No one was preventing Trump from actually giving his annual speech, mind you. But in order to address the United States from the traditional location in the House of Representatives, he must first be formally invited by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. She had originally extended that invitation on Jan. 6, for Trump to deliver his speech on Jan. 29. When the government was still shut down on Jan.16, she revoked it.
Citing security issues and noting that a State of the Union had never been given during a government shutdown, Pelosi suggested in a letter that once the government was reopened they could work together to come up with a later date for the address. Trump shot back with a letter of his own, denying that there were security issues and stating that he would be delivering his speech in front of a joint session of Congress as planned on the originally scheduled date.
Unfortunately, it was not up to him. Pelosi controls the House, and she has the final say on who is allowed to speak.
Trump was, of course, free to address the nation from the comfort of the Oval Office, or any other location of his choosing. Pelosi suggested he could even submit his State of the Union in writing. (Without a television appearance?!) However, doing so would have been an admission of defeat, and an embarrassing one. It would have been a clear indicator that, for all his posturing, Pelosi had more power over him in this matter, and there was nothing he could do about it.
What Trump tweeted is correct: this was in no way a concession. His temporary reopening of the government is not the conduct of someone who is giving up on his promises or backing down from a fight. It is the behavior of a man who was about to break up with his girlfriend before he remembered that she owned the Super Bowl tickets. Trump has an event that he wants to attend, and he needs to play nice with the Speaker of the House to get in the door. It’s important to him that he gives that speech in front of Congress because if he does it anywhere else, everyone will know the reason why. He needs to speak at the House of Representatives, and to get invited he knew what he had to do.
The news that Pelosi could indeed prevent Trump from delivering his address in front of Congress was delivered Wednesday, Jan. 23. Within two days, the shutdown had ended… temporarily. On Jan. 25 Trump signed a stopgap bill that reopened the government, but only for 21 days. Furloughed workers would be paid and sent back to work, things would appear to be running smoothly again and, coincidentally, a three-week truce is just long enough for Trump to get that State of the Union invitation back. (Which he did: Pelosi offered to host him to address the nation on Feb. 5, and he accepted.)
Critics talked of Trump caving, and many chided him for being a bad negotiator. He appeared to have completely backed down from his demands for wall funding, and he reopened the government with nothing to show for it. This from the guy who brags about having written “The Art of the Deal?” But pay attention: this isn’t his end game. It’s just his way of postponing a big fight to win a small battle. In fact, if Trump hadn’t needed Pelosi’s invitation to give the State of the Union address in front of Congress, there’s a good chance that the shutdown would still be going on.
The temporary budget measure ends Feb. 15. Already Trump has suggested the possibility of closing the government again on that date if he does not receive the full $5.7 billion he originally requested to fund a border wall. Already he has threatened that if his demands are not met, he could build the wall on his own by circumventing Congress and declaring a national emergency.
His border wall plans will continue, like the plans of that fellow who patched things up with his partner just long enough to make it to the big game. That guy will break up with his girlfriend right after the Super Bowl, and on Feb. 5, after the State of the Union, Trump will dig in his heels again.