The Slatest

Conservatives Persuade Trump to Trash Spending Deal, Making Government Shutdown More Likely

Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.
Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

You couldn’t write a better ending to the House Republican majority. In the party’s swan song before Democrats take control, a bloc of far-right conservatives has persuaded President Trump to threaten a veto of leadership’s plan to punt the border wall debate into next year, insisting that the president “fight” now to get his $5 billion “steel slat” project.

There is no plan. Dozens of members and senators have already flown home. Democrats aren’t going to give Trump the wall. There is no plan.

There is no plan.

You’ve got to give the conservatives credit. They know how to convince Trump that a path exists beyond the dead end. Wednesday, once it became clear that the continuing resolution funding the government until Feb. 8 was leadership’s play, conservatives started warning Trump about the effect this would have on his base—the only constituency he is capable of caring about.

North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, warned that the “fallout” from Trump signing the CR would “start Saturday” and do “major damage” to his 2020 re-election bid. (Or everyone would just forget about it five minutes later?) The Freedom Caucus held the floor for 30 minutes Wednesday evening with a dozen members giving speeches insisting that the president resist any deal without wall funding.

“Mr. President, we’re going to back you up,” Meadows said. “If you veto this bill, we’ll be there. But more importantly the American people will be there. They’ll be there to support you. Let’s build the wall and make sure that we do our job in Congress.”

The right-wing mediasphere, meanwhile, applied the requisite pressure from the outside. Rush Limbaugh said Trump got “less than nothing” in the bill, while Breitbart called it a “cave” on the president’s part. Ann Coulter called the president “gutless” and said she wouldn’t vote for him in 2020 without a wall. (Trump appeared to unfollow her on Twitter after some of these remarks.)

All of this began to get to the president.

And in the GOP caucus meeting Thursday, Freedom Caucus leaders and a good number of rank-and-file members objected to voting for a bill with no wall funding if they were unsure the president would sign it. They had good reason not to believe he would. Despite Vice President Mike Pence telling Senate Republicans during their Wednesday lunch that the president would sign it—prompting the Senate to pass the bill Wednesday night by voice vote—Mike Pence is not the president. Donald Trump is.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who really wants to get out of town, got a call from the president during the Thursday morning caucus meeting. He was later summoned to the White House alongside the rest of the House GOP leadership, as well as Meadows and fellow Freedom Caucus member Rep. Jim Jordan. When the group came out, Ryan delivered the news: Trump would not sign the CR and wants his wall money now.

The president also personally informed other vital stakeholders, like Rush Limbaugh, of his position.

So what now?

House Republicans will likely try to pass a spending bill that does include the president’s request for wall funding (as well as some disaster relief funds that some Southern members have been agitating for). This would be the bill that Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has said repeatedly Republicans don’t have the votes for. We’ll find out soon enough, but Republicans’ ranks have been depleted by dozens of retiring members who haven’t shown up for work this week.

If that fails, Republicans could say they tried, then pass the “clean” funding bill and send it to the president’s desk. If, however, the revised bill passes, it would go nowhere in the Senate. The best option for averting a shutdown, at this point, might be overriding a veto, but it’s hard to imagine that many Republicans openly defying the president.

Barring an overridden veto, a shutdown would last as long as Trump maintains his position that he won’t sign a bill without his desired wall funding. That could be a couple of days, or it could be a couple of weeks. If it’s a couple of weeks, then Nancy Pelosi will be in charge of the House, and Trump really, really won’t get any wall money.

There is no plan.

But at least Trump has made Rush Limbaugh happy, for a little while.