What game is he playing here?
There’s no way Trump would force a shutdown under the circumstances. His approval’s already taken a hit from the impeachment process. There are damaging revelations about the Ukraine process dribbling out every day. The last thing he needs while the public is mulling the prospect of ending his presidency early is to hit them with another unpopular shutdown. It’d be the height of foolishness, completely self-destructive, the sort of thing aimed at appealing to the 25 percent of the country that makes up his hardcore base (“He fights!”) while alienating everyone else. He’d damage himself for no better reason than to gratify a primal impulse towards revenge.
So … yeah, now that I think about it, it does seem like something he might do.
But it doesn’t sound like something Mitch McConnell would do, which is why it won’t happen.
“I’m increasingly worried that President Trump will want to shut down the government again because of impeachment,” Schumer told reporters. “He always likes to create diversions. I hope and pray he won’t want to cause another government shutdown because it might be a diversion away from impeachment.”
Republicans have insisted the government will not shut down, but that was also their position in December when Trump kicked off the longest government shutdown in history over Democrats’ refusal to fund his border wall. Without action, the government will shut down Nov. 22.
This is a leverage play, obviously. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are at a momentary stalemate on the defense bill, with Jim Inhofe’s committee preparing a “skinny” stopgap version to keep the lights on in case the two sides can’t reach a deal on a comprehensive bill by the time the Pentagon runs out of money on November 21. Schumer has two options on how to spin that. The boring one: “We can’t agree on every particular about defense spending.” The exciting one: “The president is once again abusing his power by choking off funds in order to derail his own impeachment!” Which option would you choose?
Schumer knows how worried McConnell is about Senate Republicans being saddled with Trump’s political baggage next fall so he’s trying to pile more onto them: If Senate Republicans let the government shut down again, it’s Trump’s fault. Maybe he’ll squeeze a few extra concessions out of Cocaine Mitch in the interest of avoiding that narrative. And in fairness, there *is* always a chance that Trump will be talked into a self-sabotaging show of resolve by his Fox News buddies in which he decides to shut down the government to protest the “witch hunt.” But it wouldn’t work — I think. McConnell went along with a Trump-led shutdown fight once before. He’s not going to let POTUS screw Collins, Gardner, and the other vulnerable incumbents again, a year out from an election, by going along with another one. I suspect he’d deliver the 20 Republican votes Schumer would need for a veto-proof majority on a spending bill. (Whether Kevin McCarthy could get Pelosi to two-thirds of the House is a separate question.)
In fact, McConnell might even secretly welcome a chance to defy Trump in a big spot. He knows his caucus will need to take a tough vote soon to acquit the president after his impeachment trial in the Senate. Purple-staters like Collins and Gardner will be pilloried by Democrats as Trump stooges when that happens. So if McConnell can hand them an opportunity to cross Trump on another big vote, presumably he’ll lunge at it. Especially when that vote involves something as potentially unpopular as a new shutdown.
Purely as a thought experiment, it’s fascinating to imagine how the public might react to a double whammy in which Washington has to interrupt being bitterly divided over something as momentous as impeachment in order to be bitterly divided over a new shutdown. It’s a fact of life in modern America that Washington is broken but I’m not sure we’ve experienced anything in the past 20 years that would drive home how badly broken it is as vividly as that would. One wonders what it might do to the Democratic presidential process. Would radicals like Bernie and Warren gain momentum from it, in the belief that we need to “shake up the system” even more dramatically than we did in electing Trump? Or would it cut the other way, with Biden getting a boost in the belief that we desperately need a return to comity and “normalcy” and that’s what Grandpa Joe represents?
Anyway, since you’re doubtless wondering, yes, House Democrats would be able to continue working on impeachment if the government shut down. Per Roll Call, members of Congress continue to get paid thanks to Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution; staff are a different matter, but Congress could continue to keep some around as “essential” employees since impeachment is, after all, a constitutional power. The hearings would likely go forward.