Last Friday, the 25th of January, saw the end of the longest shutdown in the history of our government. For a total of 35 days, large sections of the US government lacked funding as a result of Congress’ inability to pass appropriations bills through both chambers. The reason for this legislative gridlock, and the resulting dysfunction that ravaged both the news cycle and federal workers’ paychecks alike, was the president’s demand to include border wall funding in any omnibus spending bill that came to his desk.
The shutdown fight began in December of last year, when the Senate overwhelmingly passed a continuing resolution bill (CR) to fund the government through February. The expectation was that the House would then take up the CR and pass it, thereby sending it to the president’s desk to become law. Instead, following a successful Senate vote on that bipartisan bill, President Trump released a last-minute statement announcing his opposition to any CR that did not include five billion dollars for his border wall. As a result, the Republican controlled House refused to take up the Senate’s CR, instead passing their own bill that included the newly demanded wall funding. This bill, as one would expect, died in the Senate as a result of that addition. Once Congress moved into recess for the holiday, the government partially shut down.
This is the reason why this shutdown has been quite famously labeled as “Trump’s Shutdown” by many major news outlets. Despite the overwhelming support for a CR in the Senate, as well as signaled support from both sides in the House, Trump’s decision to torpedo that agreement at the eleventh hour caused compromise to break down and workers to go unpaid. This blame is reflected in polling on the subject, with FiveThirtyEight calculating a presidential approval rating of only 39.3% on the day the shutdown ended for a total drop of 2.9%.
Here is my question, though. Was this really the Trump Shutdown?
Sure, the president is largely to blame. I’m not defending the man, the information above should be enough to illustrate how his poorly guided politicking incited over a month’s worth of unnecessary chaos. There is a problem, however, if one tries to lay all of the blame onto the White House’s poor decision-making.
At any point during this process, Congress could have overrode Trump’s veto on the CR. Sure, Trump publicly denounced the Senate’s bipartisan solution because it didn’t include his wall. That is his policy position on the matter; if he wants to veto the spending bill because of it, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about it. Congress, however, is an independent, coequal branch of government. Even once the president announced his intentions, the House could have still chosen to pass the Senate’s bipartisan solution and, should it be necessary, work with the upper chamber to override a potential veto. Yet instead, Speaker Ryan and House Republicans chose to take up a separate bill, knowing in advanced that such a measure would fail in the Senate and shutdown the government, all because they would rather launch the nation into a chaotic scramble for a month rather than oppose their party’s leader.
This is worsened even further by the behavior of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the new year’s congressional session. Once the Democrats gained control over the House in January, the chamber immediately moved to pass a spending bill that would, similarly to the overwhelmingly accepted Senate bill, reopen the government without wall funding. Rather than allowing the Senate to vote on this proposal, which was proven to have veto-proof support, McConnell instead blocked the effort and announced his plan to deny a vote on any bill the president did not support.
This frustrating, repeated refusal by congressional GOP leaders to oppose the president on even this simple, common sense issue is capped off by the most anti-climactic development of all: Trump, after weeks of refusing to cooperate, conceded on Friday and accepted what is essentially that very same plan from back in December. In other words, this shutdown has been almost completely pointless, and the only reason that it went on as long as it did was because of Republican congressional leaders’ refusal to differ with Trump on almost any position—regardless of reason.
The legislative and executive branches are coequal. The Constitution grants them various checks and balances against one another to reflect this. It is the duty of the members of those branches to, whenever it is necessary, utilize those checks in order to protect the public which they serve from the dangers of overreach. Trump’s decision to shutdown the government was destructive, ill-informed, and ultimately pointless. The GOP’s decision to go along with it, despite their ability to stop it at any time, is an even greater offense.