WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Tuesday the U.S. government “needs a good shutdown” this fall to fix a “mess” in the Senate, signalling on Twitter his displeasure with a bill to keep operations running. But Republican leaders and Trump himself also praised the stopgap measure as a major accomplishment and a sign of his masterful negotiating with Democrats.
On the defensive, Trump and his allies issued a flurry of contradictory statements ahead of key votes in Congress on a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep the government at full speed through September. After advocating for a future shutdown, the president hailed the budget agreement as a boost for the military, border security and other top priorities.
“This is what winning looks like,” Trump said during a ceremony honouring the Air Force Academy football team. “Our Republican team had its own victory — under the radar,” Trump said, calling the bill “a clear win for the American people.” Late in the day, the White House said he would indeed sign the bill.
Yet Trump’s morning tweets hardly signalled a win and came after Democrats gleefully claimed victory in denying him much of his wish list despite being the minority party. They sounded a note of defeat, blaming Senate rules for a budget plan that merited closing most government operations.
But the White House then rallied to make the case to the public — and perhaps to a president who famously hates losing — that he actually had prevailed in the negotiations. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney briefed reporters twice within a few hours to adamantly declare the administration’s success. He was joined at his second briefing by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. And Trump himself used the normally non-political football ceremony to proclaim his own success.
Mulvaney, criticizing Democrats for celebrating, said Trump was “frustrated with the fact that he negotiated in good faith with the Democrats and they went out and tried to spike the football to make him look bad.”
Asked how the president would define a “good shutdown,” Mulvaney suggested “it would be one that fixes this town.”
Trump’s embrace of such a disruptive event came days after he accused Senate Democrats of seeking that same outcome and obstructing majority Republicans during budget negotiations.
Lawmakers announced Sunday they had reached an agreement to avoid a shutdown until Oct. 1 — a deal that does not include several provisions sought by Trump, including money for a border wall.
It also came at the start of a week in which the House is considering a possible vote on a health care overhaul that would repeal and replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
The spending bill is set for a House vote on Wednesday, when it’s likely to win widespread bipartisan support, though a host of GOP conservatives will oppose the measure, calling it a missed opportunity.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin defended the package, calling it an “important first step in the right direction” that included a “big down payment” on border security and the military. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the bill “delivers some important conservative wins.”
In fact, the White House on Monday had praised the deal as a win for the nation’s military, health benefits for coal miners and other Trump priorities.
But by Tuesday morning, the president sounded off on Twitter.
“The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there!” He added that we “either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51 (per cent). Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”
That contradicted Trump’s message of less than a week ago.
Last Thursday, Trump had tweeted that Democrats were threatening to close national parks as part of the negotiations “and shut down the government. Terrible!” He also tweeted at the time that he had promised to “rebuild our military and secure our border. Democrats want to shut down the government. Politics!”
His Tuesday tweets about Senate procedures came after Senate Republicans recently triggered the “nuclear option” to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster threshold for confirming Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. That change allowed the Senate to hold a final vote to approve Gorsuch with a simple majority, an approach that has not been used for legislation.
Top Senate Republican dismissed the idea of changing filibuster rules for a spending bill.
“It would fundamentally change the way the Senate has worked for a very long time,” McConnell said. “We’re not going to do that.”
Any future shutdown would likely cost the federal government billions of dollars. The 16-day partial shutdown in 2013 cost $24 billion, according to Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. That included lost revenue for the national parks.
“President Trump may not like what he sees in this budget deal, but it’s dangerous and irresponsible to respond by calling for a shutdown,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the spending agreement came from a “bipartisan negotiation,” adding, “The leaders — Democrat, Republican, House and Senate — work well together. And why ruin that?”
Throughout the day, the White House and congressional Republicans pressed to reverse a Washington narrative that the catchall bill is a win for Democrats.
Mulvaney cited a $15 billion infusion of defence spending — about half of what Trump asked for in March — as a huge win. He also cited $1.5 billion in emergency money for border security.
He correctly noted that the administration succeeded in breaking the link — forged over several Obama-era spending deals — that required that any increases in military spending be matched by an equal, dollar-for-dollar increase for nondefense programs.