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Politics & Policy

President Trump’s Successful Strategic Silence

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

President Trump’s Successful Strategic Silence

“Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness.” – Sun Tsu

When Chuck Schumer gave his speech on the Senate floor Monday, announcing that Senate Democrats would support a continuing resolution to reopen the government in exchange for a promise of a vote on DACA in the coming weeks, everyone could tell he was surprised and dismayed that he had been forced to surrender so quickly. He was particularly irked that his position turned into a political loser over the course of a weekend, and that President Trump had failed to provide him some controversial statement to use as cover.

“The White House refused to engage in negotiations over the weekend,” Schumer fumed. “The great deal-making president sat on the sidelines.”

He’s trying to bait Trump; we will have to see whether that tactic works. The fact remains that Trump earned one of his biggest political victories of his presidency just by staying home and mostly staying quiet over the weekend.

I think Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a deeply underrated leader, but it’s worth noting he and the Republicans had the wind at their back in this circumstance. Schumer had led his party further out on a limb than his red state senators were willing to go, and to a position a majority of the public did not support. The public is generally supportive of protecting the DACA kids from deportation, but they’re not willing to live with a government shutdown to get it.

The lingering problem for Democrats is that despite all of their Election Day setbacks in recent years, they’re not used to being out-negotiated or losing a messaging fight. They’re stunned.

It’s a debacle,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. “I’m just saddened by it all.”

“This is a bad, outrageous deal. Trump and Republicans in Congress stood with their anti-immigrant nativist base, and too many Democrats backed down, abandoned Dreamers, and failed to fight for their values,” MoveOn.org Political Action Executive Director Ilya Sheyman said in a statement.

“The only thing more astonishing than the man in the White House and the demands he’s made on our national conscience is the fecklessness of the party opposing him,” writes Osita Nwanevu in Slate.

Tonight, liberal groups will be protesting outside Schumer’s house in Brooklyn.

Ezra Klein is one of the few Democrats insisting that Schumer did not cave, and that Democrats can and should shut down the government again in three weeks if they don’t get what they want:

If Democrats get a fair vote in the House and Senate on an immigration deal and it doesn’t pass, will they shut down the government again in three weeks? Put differently, is this a deal about a fair process or about a particular outcome? If Democrats don’t get a deal and they shut the government back down in three weeks, it’s hard to see what was lost here.

But if red state Democrats were exerting enough pressure on Schumer to capitulate and reopen the government after one weekday of a shutdown… what will change in their position in the next three weeks?

Among the Democrats who voted to reopen the government yesterday:

Bill Nelson of Florida.

Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania.

Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

All of them represent states Trump won, and all of them are up for reelection in ten months. The only Democrat in that category who didn’t vote to reopen the government was Jon Tester of Montana. Also voting “yes” were the four senators who represent the most federal workers, Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Maryland Democrats Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

Do you think any of them will become fans of a government shutdown in the coming weeks? The only thing that will change about the politics of a government shutdown next month is that we’ll be a little bit closer to Election Day.

This morning, Schumer has a lot of egg on his face, and he’s probably going to be denounced and pilloried by his political allies for the rest of the week. But it’s worth keeping in mind that Monday’s move might eventually be seen as a wise tactical retreat. Because a shutdown-driven “pox on both your houses” mood is worse for vulnerable red state Democrats up for reelection in 2018 than the alterative, Schumer was wise to retreat and get back to traditional DACA negotiations. A lot of Republicans want the issue of DACA resolved and off their plate, and they want some concessions on border security. Schumer and Gutierrez made noises about reaching a deal on “the wall.” It’s not hard to imagine Democrats making sufficient concessions because they want to avoid a shutdown as well.

For the Democrats, the real big goal is success in the midterms. If they win the House, they’ll have a lot more leverage on negotiations on immigration policy and all kinds of other policies.

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