Thursday, January 24, 2019

Shutdown weighs on Trump -- Jan. 24, 2019 column


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won the battle over the State of the Union.

President Donald Trump acceded to Pelosi’s decision to postpone the address until the federal government reopens.

“This is her prerogative,” he tweeted late Wednesday night, reversing course.

Hours earlier he’d said he was looking for another venue after Pelosi said he couldn’t make the speech in the House chamber as long as the government is partially shut down. Then he changed his mind.

“There is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber,” he tweeted.

He’s right. Trump can draw a crowd of enthusiastic supporters wearing red MAGA hats to an arena anytime. But the State of the Union address is one of the rare occasions all three branches of government and the diplomatic corps gather in one august room as a captive audience while TV cameras roll.

Trump could have avoided all the drama had he agreed with Pelosi the speech was a bad idea while a quarter of the government was closed. She cited security concerns, but the administration insisted there was no problem with security.

Instead, he tried to bully her, saying he would deliver the speech despite her request to postpone. She then refused to allow the House to vote for the resolution authorizing a joint session of Congress.

And so the president who hates to be seen as weak looked weak. Three new polls, including one by his favorite network, Fox News, show his job performance ratings are slipping.

Fox found only 43 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing overall, down 3 points from December. He is also under water on border security, immigration and foreign policy, Fox reported. 

“TRUMP BLINKS” Fox blared in a headline on its website as conservative commentators criticized his State of the Union turnabout.    

“Bad decision,” Laura Ingraham of Fox News said. She said she’d give three State of the Union speeches around the country. 

But the real question is not where Trump will give the State of the Union address but when.

Presidents use the prime-time address to lay out their legislative priorities for the coming year. By postponing, Trump all but announced his agenda is going nowhere in Congress during the shutdown and perhaps after that.

Thus Trump is learning even the president has limitations in a country with three equal branches of government. Republican congressional leaders have been afraid to stand up to him, but the Democratic-controlled House has a speaker who’s keen to use her power.

Meanwhile, the country is enduring the longest federal government shutdown in history with more than 800,000 federal workers going without pay because the president has refused to compromise on his demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall.

Democrats refuse to meet his demand, contending that, if they give in now, Trump will use the shutdown threat to force passage of future initiatives. Democrats  floated the idea of $5.7 billion for enhanced border security – just not for a physical wall, which they see as ineffective.

Trump’s attempt to bring Democrats to the table failed because he offered only a temporary fix for the young people called Dreamers who came to the country as children – and no compromise on wall funding.

So far, Democrats appear to be winning the shutdown battle.

Pelosi got a higher rating for her handling of negotiations for the shutdown than Trump in a CBS News poll, which found 47 percent approve of Pelosi and 35 percent of Trump.

Republicans and Democrats each want their leaders to keep fighting, which explains the current congressional gridlock. Lawmakers are unlikely to budge unless they feel political pain.

But it’s the independents who often determine elections, and 60 percent of independents disapprove of Trump’s job performance, the highest share among those voters since Trump took office, the Politico/Morning Consult poll reported.

Is a border wall worth the shutdown? CBS asked. A whopping 71 percent of independents said no. For Trump and Senate Republicans, that’s an ominous number looking to 2020.

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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