Monday 17 December 2018

One year in... Happy anniversary Mr President?

It's not a good way for Trump to celebrate his first year in office, writes Justin Sink

US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Justin Sink

Donald Trump woke up on the first anniversary of his inauguration with the US federal government shuttered - a development that seemed almost predictable after a year of tumult in Washington.

"This is the One Year Anniversary of my Presidency and the Democrats wanted to give me a nice present," the president said on Twitter early yesterday. In separate tweets, he said Democrats "could easily have made a deal" to avoid the shut-down but were "holding our military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration. Can't let that happen!"

The White House believes a catchy nickname - the "Schumer Shut-down" - and the fact a majority of Democrats in the Senate voted to block a stopgap spending bill, will rally public opinion to Trump's side. But early polling shows a plurality of voters is inclined to hold the president and congressional Republicans responsible - not the Democratic minority in the Senate, led by New York's Chuck Schumer.

Trump was defiant, however, vowing not to negotiate immigration changes which Democrats desire until the government reopens - while characteristically insulting his opponents.

"This is the behaviour of obstructionist losers, not legislators," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement shortly before the shut-down began.

"We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands."

With the government closed, Trump postponed plans to spend the weekend at his Florida club. An anniversary party had been planned at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach last night, with tickets selling for at least $100,000 a couple - a price-tag that would include a photo with the president as well as dinner. It is not known if refunds have been made available.

One thing that could spare Trump any lasting damage - if the shut-down remains brief. The US Congress may vote this weekend to reopen the government for at least a few weeks. An extended shut-down would blunt the momentum from a tax overhaul bill that was the top achievement of his first year in office - something Trump has emphasised in his Twitter messages.

The White House remaining mired in budget negotiations could also muddy the message of his first State of the Union address on January 29.

Trump's refusal to concede to Democratic demands that Congress rapidly enact protections for so-called Dreamers - immigrants brought illegally to the country as children - may play well with his base. But Trump's standing with his base seems rock-solid. It's middle-of-the-road voters, who doubt his capabilities as a leader, and shutting down the government - controlled entirely by his own party - is likely to rekindle questions.

Schumer said the shut-down was due to an absence of leadership by Trump. When his fellow Republicans looked to him for guidance, "the president provided none," the senator said.

"Unfortunately, a Trump shut-down would be a perfect encapsulation of the chaos he has unleashed on our government," Schumer added.

"Instead of bringing us all together, he's pulled us apart. Instead of governing from the middle, he's outsourced his presidency to the extremes."

Democrats could share blame for the shut-down if voters conclude that the plight of the Dreamers - who aren't under imminent threat of deportation - isn't worth the fight. A CNN poll last Friday showed 56pc of Americans believe it is more important to keep the government open than to preserve protections for immigrants which Trump intends to end in September.

The same CNN poll found 47pc of Americans would blame Trump for the shut-down. A Washington Post poll on Friday found a similar result, with 48pc blaming Trump and his party versus 28pc blaming Democrats.

The symbolism is rich for Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to shake up a capital that he said had lost its way. He was in a unique position to make changes, with his Republican party controlling all of Washington for the first time in more than a decade.

Yet the shut-down is very much the product of his own penchant for chaos. It was essentially cemented a week ago, after Trump blew up a potential bi-partisan deal on immigration during a meeting at the White House, denigrating Haitian and African immigrants in the process and deepening mistrust among Democrats.


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