President Donald J. Trump won most of the headlines this weekend for his non-starter offer to end the government shutdown with concessions on DACA, but his latest Hail Mary is seen by Democrats as pure optics without a tinge of substance.
With true negotiations stalled, some moderate Democrats are now joining the chorus of Republicans calling on Trump to just declare a national emergency, or for their party leaders to capitulate a tad and set up an outside commission to overcome this childish impasse.
Week four of this historic shutdown began with a bang as Trump surrounded himself with immigrant props in the Oval Office for a naturalization ceremony ahead of his address, in which he offered to grant temporary reprieve for the recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in exchange for his coveted wall. But that proposal was almost instantly batted away by most Democrats.
“Trump’s offer is not a serious offer. It has no chance of passing,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) texted The Daily Beast after the address. “It’s just not a serious proposal.”
That’s not good news for the hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors going without pay, let alone the millions of Americans who rely on them in one way or another. It means we’re now back to square one, and that’s not a good starting point for anyone.
“I think things look a little bleak right now,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, told a gaggle of reporters at the Capitol last week.
Even with the president’s speech and new offer, absolutely nothing has changed in the past few days and even weeks. While there have been bipartisan negotiations taking place at the Capitol, top Democratic and Republican leaders aren’t a part of them.
Shelby characterized those behind-the-scenes efforts by moderates to end this petty stalemate as “tilting at windmills” unless they force Trump and top Democrats back to the proverbial conference room table. But all sides are refusing to even entertain the thought.
That’s unacceptable to moderate Democrats, some of whom are now encouraging Trump to declare an emergency at the southern border and then just let the courts figure it out while government employees start working and receiving their much-needed paychecks again. With powerful congressional leaders like Shelby dismissing the bipartisan talks out of hand, some are now calling for drastic measures to end the impasse.
“Well, if that’s the case then I’m begging the president—please declare a national emergency,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told The Daily Beast. “Please do it Mr. President, because we are in a political meltdown.”
Manchin supports more border security funding than other Democrats, but he also doesn’t necessarily think the emergency declaration is legal. Still, he says it’s time for Trump to do it.
“The courts are there—equal powers are there. Three branches of government are there for a purpose, and we have the courts intervening a lot: constitutional, unconstitutional, this and that. So this would be no different than that,” Manchin argued.
Trump’s top allies at the Capitol say he just wants a win—anything to show his base that he delivered.
“He’s not going to agree to open it back up and then have Speaker Pelosi say, ‘Thank you very much. You get nothing,’” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters at the Capitol.
Some have floated reopening the government for a few weeks—or even just a day so government employees can get their back pay, which Kennedy laughs off.
“You know when that’s going to happen? When you look outside your window and see donkey’s fly. It’s not going to happen,” Kennedy said. “It’s just not going to happen.”
That’s why Manchin isn’t alone in his call for an emergency declaration that he doesn’t even necessarily support.
“I don’t think it’s important that the president loses,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) told The Daily Beast. “We don’t want to build the wall, the wall is stupid and inefficient, but there is some way that he can save face.”
Beyer says he agrees with the current Democratic strategy, which is to open up as much of the government as possible and save the wall negotiations for last. But as party leaders keep moving further apart, he also thinks an emergency declaration by Trump is now politically warranted, even if he doesn’t think it’s constitutional.
“That’s a way, I think, for him to claim a win and yet get the government open,” Beyer added. “And let the courts figure it out.”
The GOP’s rank and file are also growing more angsty.
“My frustration is, honestly, this should have been done last year. We all know that,” Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) told The Daily Beast. “This ought to have been all hands-on deck—nobody does anything else til this gets done. I mean, this is a five-alarm crisis right now.”
Lawmakers’ offices are still getting flooded with calls, but conservatives say this is different than what they’re used to with high-profile political issues. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) says the calls to his office have been roughly split in half from opponents and supporters of the wall, which is odd.
“It just tells me that both sides are truly eager to make their wishes known, and for the first time, at least in a longtime, that both sides are equally represented,” Scott told The Daily Beast. “Typically when you have issues like this 80 percent of the folks who call in are in opposition to it. This time you have a lot of people that are calling in who are in support of it.”
To Scott, Chairman Shelby is spot on when he calls the current atmosphere in Washington “bleak.”
“It suggests to me that people are dug in, and they want their representatives to stay where they are,” Scott continued.
How do you get leaders from either party to budge when their core constituencies are promising to punish them if they move an inch? Some Democrats say it’s time to allow both sides to save face by just setting up a bipartisan commission of sorts to hammer out a serious compromise.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) has floated a proposal to set up a panel of six people—two appointed by Trump, two by the House, and two by the Senate. Something along those lines may give the president the out he needs, according to some lawmakers.
“Trump can [then] declare victory, but let’s actually use the science and facts to figure out the best way to protect the border,” Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) told The Daily Beast.
A simple panel, which has effectively worked in the past, is merely kicking the can down the road, though it also gets the government operating again. But Trump isn’t like past presidents.
“Any other normal president would step up and say, ‘Look, I see the country suffering. I’m going to be the bigger person here. I’m going to open the government up, and then I’m going to ask the Democrats to come back to the table,” Bera said. “And then he can declare victory, because that’s what a leader would do, but he is who he is. So...”
Knowing that makes even the growing number of more moderate Democrats who are clamoring to find a way out of this political shit show stop short of being upset with Democratic leaders. They argue that it’s been impossible to negotiate with this reality-TV-star-turned-commander-in-chief who has changed his position regularly throughout this manufactured ordeal.
“That’s a part of the problem, I think, our leadership has in terms of negotiating, is just not knowing what he wants to do today,” Bera added.
While Democratic leaders and Trump continue to try and out perform each other on cable and social media—like with Pelosi’s call to delay the State of the Union address or the president’s petty rebuttal of canceling her military escort to visit troops in a war zone—many moderates are pushing their leaders to get more creative, even as they recognize that both parties have backed themselves into corners that are hard to escape from without receiving an intense backlash from their respective bases.
“There’s a lot of people that have been involved, that want to be involved and move it forward,” Sen. Manchin of West Virginia said. “But if it’s just ‘No,’ ‘No’ and ‘Hell, no!’, it’s just hard on either side.”