Last week, Republican congressional leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell visited the White House to discuss with President Trump, among other things, their strategy to secure the next round of government funding. The appropriations process in Congress has been moving along at an unusually normal pace this summer, and the only thing that could truly foul it up ahead of the Oct. 1 funding deadline is a fight over the president’s border wall. McConnell and Ryan tried to convince the president to be patient and to put off that demand until after the midterms.
According to Ryan, that meeting was successful. Trump, the speaker said at a press conference last Thursday, was “willing to be patient.” That seemed to indicate that the president was willing to back a stopgap measure that will be needed to fund at least some of the more contentious areas of the government—such as the Department of Homeland Security. The House has moved forward with a bill that includes $5 billion for wall funding and additional border security, while the Senate version would offer $1.6 billion.
Trump’s supposed receptiveness to the idea of kicking the wall fight down the road, though, wasn’t on display in his Sunday airing of grievances on Twitter. As with any delicate congressional negotiation where the president is said to be enthusiastically on board, Trump maybe isn’t, and he times his denials for maximum embarrassment to allies in Congress who’ve just announced otherwise.
In another Monday morning tweet, the president reiterated his desire for these policies but didn’t link them to shutting down the government.
This isn’t a complicated one. Republicans do not want the government that they control to shut down a month before the midterms over the unpopular president’s demand for an unpopular physical barrier. It is a shutdown fight that Republicans would lose, and once lost, Trump would deflect blame onto the weak-willed congressional Republicans who need the president’s base to turn out for them in a difficult election cycle. As Ryan and McConnell stressed to Trump, the shutdown fight would distract from the big pre-election “win” that McConnell should be able to deliver for the base: Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Trump, according to Politico, has said in private that a shutdown might be “politically beneficial for him, arguing it could rally his base.” These two talking points aren’t necessarily in conflict. It would rally his base—for him, the one who isn’t up for re-election this cycle. That’s the tension that makes this back-and-forth about whether to press for wall funding in September worth watching: On the one hand, he could help congressional Republicans defend their majorities by not insisting on this fight. On the other, he could temporarily plug one of his gaping insecurities by giving a rush to the roughly one-fifth of the population that already loves him.
In the end, one shouldn’t expect the government to shut down before the midterms. There’s some wiggle room in his tweet. He doesn’t say when he would be willing to shut down the government, so he could only be entertaining it for when the stopgap bill expires after Election Day. He’ll totally get that big wall-funding request, he’s saying. The unsaid part is that he’ll do so later. (He won’t, by the way.)