GOP mes­sag­ing lost in shut­down

Trump picks wall fight over tout­ing Repub­li­can agenda

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Paul Kane

WASHINGTON — Repub­li­cans are end­ing the 115th Congress in an all-toofa­mil­iar spot: stand­ing on the side­lines while Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump picks a fight they wanted to avoid as he ig­nores what they con­sider ma­jor con­ser­va­tive ac­com­plish­ments.

On back-to-back days this month, Trump hosted large bi­par­ti­san gath­er­ings that were meant to be vale­dic­tory, year-end state­ments of suc­cess with an $867 bil­lion farm bill and a sweep­ing over­haul of fed­eral prison laws. For a Congress that strug­gled to find sig­nif­i­cant leg­is­la­tion with sweep­ing Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can sup­port, these bills pro­vided a road map for how things might work in the next two years of di­vided gov­ern­ment.

In­stead, Trump used each cer­e­mony as an op­por­tu­nity to de­nounce Democrats for op­pos­ing his multi­bil­lion-dol­lar de­mands for tax­payer money to fund a south­ern bor­der wall, launch­ing Washington into its third par­tial shut­down this year.

“It’s pos­si­ble that we’ll have a shut­down. I would say the chances are prob­a­bly very good be­cause I don’t think Democrats care so much about maybe this is­sue,” Trump said Dec. 21 at the sign­ing cer­e­mony for the First Step Act, a crim­i­nal jus­tice bill that his son-in­law, Jared Kush­ner, ne­go­ti­ated with Democrats.

And this shut­down could last well into the new year as Trump digs in for a fight for a wall he re­peat­edly promised Mex­ico would fi­nance. Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, un­able to de­liver the pres­i­dent’s top pri­or­ity de­spite all-GOP con­trol of gov­ern­ment for two years, mostly hid from the spot­light.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have not been seen in the Capi­tol since Dec. 22, the first day of the par­tial shut­down. Nei­ther cham­ber is slated to hold a leg­isla­tive ses­sion un­til af­ter New Year’s Day, just as Democrats take over the House af­ter a midterm thump­ing that gave them a net gain of 40 seats.

Nei­ther GOP leader has tried to back up Trump with the sort of news con­fer­ence or par­ti­san vote that demon­strates com­mit­ment to the cause — which has been the usual course of ac­tion for the pres­i­dent’s Capi­tol Hill al­lies in the pe­ri­odic shut­downs of the past 25 years.

Trump tweeted Satur­day that he was “in the White House wait­ing for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal on Bor­der Se­cu­rity.”

But there has been lit­tle di­rect con­tact be­tween ei­ther side dur­ing the stale­mate, and Trump did not ask Repub­li­cans to keep Congress in ses­sion.

It’s an em­bar­rass­ing end to a two-year run for McCon­nell and Ryan. For months they re­spec­tively called this the “most suc­cess­ful Congress” for Repub­li­cans and claimed it set “a record pace” for leg­isla­tive pro­duc­tion.

Democrats fiercely ob­ject to those assertions and note that the big­gest GOP vic­to­ries, a $1.5 tril­lion tax cut plan and the con­fir­ma­tion of two Supreme Court jus­tices, passed on sim­ple­ma­jor­ity votes with very lit­tle bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

There were some other signs of progress, rang­ing from a mas­sive pack­age to try to com­bat opi­oid ad­dic­tion and re­vamp­ing ex­ist­ing laws over­see­ing avi­a­tion and wa­ter­ways.

But al­most none of these gains has held the at­ten­tion of the per­son Repub­li­cans most rely on to con­vey their mes­sage na­tion­wide: the pres­i­dent.

Time and again, Trump has paid lip ser­vice to these is­sues that Repub­li­cans con­sider wins and in­stead has fo­cused on his de­mands for a bor­der wall. Early this year, af­ter the tax cuts took af­fect, GOP lead­ers winced as Trump fo­cused on other is­sues and saw pub­lic ap­proval for the leg­is­la­tion fade away.

By the fall, as Trump held rally af­ter rally ahead of the midterm elec­tions, GOP lead­ers pleaded with the pres­i­dent to fo­cus his re­marks on the fall­ing un­em­ploy­ment rate and the sky­high stock mar­ket. In­stead, Trump de­voted the large ma­jor­ity of his speeches to a car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants walk­ing thou­sands of miles to­ward the Cal­i­for­nia bor­der, al­leg­ing with­out foun­da­tion that the group of mostly women and chil­dren were crim­i­nals.

In bud­get brinkman­ship, Repub­li­cans once again hold them­selves hostage

And in their last days of full Repub­li­can con­trol of Congress, the shut­down blot­ted out at­ten­tion from any other is­sue.

For years McCon­nell has en­joyed host­ing a long yearend news con­fer­ence at which he de­clares his big­gest wins and lays out his goals for the year ahead.

Nor­mally, that would have hap­pened at the end of last week, af­ter the Se­nate unan­i­mously ap­proved on Dec. 19 a short-term fund­ing plan that would have kept the gov­ern­ment fully open into early Fe­bru­ary.

That same day, Ryan gave a farewell ad­dress in the Li­brary of Congress, be­liev­ing that Trump agreed with the strat­egy to fund the gov­ern­ment and fight for the wall next month.

In­stead, the next morn­ing, Trump called Ryan and other Repub­li­cans to the White House. He re­jected their plan and was ready to fight even if it meant a shut­down.

McCon­nell never held his vale­dic­tory news con­fer­ence, and what was prob­a­bly Ryan’s last mo­ment on the House floor came Satur­day evening when he gaveled the empty cham­ber shut, the last leg­isla­tive ses­sion of 2018 go­ing out with a whim­per.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

The Ro­tunda of the U.S. Capi­tol re­mains quiet as a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down con­tin­ues into its sec­ond week.

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