I’ve been thinking there are three options, all of them bad, for Senate Republicans on how the new three-week negotiation process over the wall ends. But maybe there’s a fourth, slightly less bad one.
1. Negotiations fail and Trump declares a national emergency. Bad precedent, sure to be used against Republicans by a Democratic president in the future.
2. Negotiations fail and Senate Republicans join Dems to keep the government open by veto-proof margins. Bad for the GOP, with Trumpers sure to be furious that McConnell stabbed POTUS in the back.
3. Negotiations fail and Senate Republicans very reluctantly back Trump on a new shutdown. Bad for the GOP in a different way, as this would undoubtedly further damage Trump’s and the party’s 2020 chances and end with an emergency decree or a veto-proof margin to re-open government anyway. I can’t see Senate R’s letting it happen, but some can.
Now the new option:
4. Senate Democrats and Republicans pass a bill upfront making future shutdowns impossible (or at least more difficult). Would McConnell go for that? Maybe!
Senate Majority Leader McConnell:
"I don't like shutdowns, I don't think they work for anybody, and I hope they will be avoided. I'd be open to anything that we could agree on on a bipartisan basis that would make them pretty hard to occur again." pic.twitter.com/Qk5VrtdvJV
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 29, 2019
Is there any legislation like that floating around? As a matter of fact, there is:
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) on Tuesday introduced a bill called the Stop STUPIDITY Act. In the event of a lapse in government funding, the act would reinstate funding levels from the previous fiscal year — except for Congress and the office of the president, which would not receive funding until they reached an agreement.
Warner’s Republican colleague Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) reintroduced his own proposal last week. Rather than shut down the government in the absence of a budget, it would institute an across-the-board 1 percent funding cut for all agencies and would cut another 1 percent every 90 days that no agreement is reached.
There’s no way Rand’s version is beating a filibuster by Democrats since it actually incentivizes fans of smaller government to shut down the government to reduce spending, however temporarily. (Are there any small-government aficionados left in the Senate except Paul and Mike Lee?) Warner’s version certainly seems viable, though. Assume every Republican who voted for Schumer’s clean funding bill last Thursday also backs Warner’s bill to end shutdowns forever. That’s Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Cory Gardner, Johnny Isakson, and Lamar Alexander — 53 votes in favor, assuming all Democrats vote yes. That’s a promising beginning, especially with McConnell sounding warm to the idea today. Could he and John Cornyn round up another seven Republican votes from a group of 47? I’m thinking sure, yeah.
Think what a treat it’d be for Cocaine Mitch and anyone in the caucus to the left of Ted Cruz to never again have to worry about being thrust into the middle of a futile stunt that invariably ends up damaging Republicans more than Democrats. And that’s not the only benefit. Passing a “no more shutdowns” bill like Warner’s is a way for him to prevent another Trump-fueled shutdown in mid-February without directly confronting POTUS on the issue. (He’s reserving direct confrontation for more important matters.) If Trump shuts the government down again and McConnell is forced to override his veto, that’s a searing embarrassment to the White House. If, instead, a bill passes this week to end shutdowns for good, McConnell can spin that as being unrelated to POTUS: “Listen, we had many shutdowns before the president got here and we’d have had any more after he left if we hadn’t passed this bill. This isn’t about what happened last month, this is about correcting a longstanding problem of Congress not delivering for Americans.” He could even try to frame it as a swamp-draining measure.
Trump will be annoyed. Trump fans will be annoyed too. But this will at least spare the White House and Senate from a ruinous veto-override clash. Besides, MAGA media types like Rush and Hannity have spent the past few days talking up the possibility of an emergency decree after the negotiation period is over. They know what a bad idea a new shutdown would be. Warner’s bill would help them by sparing Trump another bad strategic move while still leaving him free to do an emergency declaration.
There are just two complications. One: Would Senate Democrats actually back Warner’s bill? Why should they help McConnell in his quest to block populist Republicans from making this same mistake again in the future? Two: Would Trump sign Warner’s bill? If not, then McConnell would have the same veto-override problem he’d have in the second scenario up above. What reason would POTUS conceivably give to justify supporting the Warner legislation while he’s busy threatening a second shutdown if Democrats don’t give him the wall? He’d basically be forced to admit that the first shutdown was a huge mistake and should never be repeated. Which would be highly un-Trumpy.