On Friday morning, President Donald Trump indicated that he was going to single-handedly shut down the government. In so doing, he provided yet another demonstration of the erratic leadership style that has inhibited the government's proper functioning despite Republicans controlling both the White House and Congress.
In his tweet, Trump threatened to "VETO" the bipartisan omnibus spending bill crafted by legislative leaders in both houses to prevent the second shutdown since the start of 2018. He cited as reasons the fact that the bill provides less funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall than Trump had wanted, as well as the fact that it does nothing to address the humanitarian crisis posed by the presence of DACA recipients in this country.
If Trump vetoes the omnibus bill, of course, the government will almost certainly experience a shutdown. The current spending bill that finances the government expires at midnight, meaning that if the new bill hasn't been signed into law, a shutdown will occur automatically. Making matters worse, many in Congress have already left town under the assumption that the bill would be signed into law by Trump. It would be very difficult, if not outright impossible, for lawmakers to meet and renegotiate the bill in a manner that would be to Trump's liking, then pass it into law in time for Trump to sign it before the midnight deadline.
One of Trump's most prominent Republican critics — Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. — acknowledged as much in a tweet that begged Trump to not do the irresponsible.
Corker most likely had personal reasons as well as political ones for his plea. The process for passing the omnibus bill was an arduous one, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "begging, pleading and cajoling" various holdouts in his own party until the bill was finally passed shortly after midnight, according to Politico. Complaints came from Republican figures ranging from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who thought that the bill was too fiscally liberal, to Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, who objected to a park being named after the late former Governor Cecil D. Andrus, who had been a political rival of Risch.
McConnell and Corker could have certainly been forgiven for assuming that, once the Senate bill had passed, it would inevitably be signed into law by the president. Trump's budget director Mick Mulvaney had bluntly said precisely that on Thursday, leaving most political experts with the impression that if the bill could pass the Senate, the crisis would be averted.
And then Trump had to blow it all up with a single tweet.
It's particularly notable that the two issues on which he chose to take this stand were DACA and the border wall. Even for a man as ideologically inconsistent as Trump, his vacillations on DACA have been quite astonishing. The stakes couldn't be higher, with 3.6 million Dreamers (including 800,000 DACA recipients) risking deportation if some pathway to citizenship isn't found, even though their only "crime" was being brought to the United States illegally when they were children.
At times, Trump has seemed conciliatory to the plight of the DREAMers, or even outright sympathetic, at one point proclaiming that he has a "big heart" and doesn't want to see bad things happen to them. Then again, when Trump tried to work out compromises on immigration reform that could have helped DREAMers, he was repeatedly pulled back by more right-wing elements in his administration, who would make increasingly implausible demands that would torpedo any bipartisan progress that had been made.
Even a Republican like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had to admit, "As long as Stephen Miller [Trump's staunchly anti-immigrant adviser] is in charge of negotiating immigration, we're going nowhere. He’s been an outlier for years."
Trump has also been inconsistent about the exact nature of his controversial border wall proposal. He has in the past called for the construction of 1,000 miles of border wall, inflated the price tag of the wall from $4 billion to $20 billion and offered varying estimates on its height and whether it would be a wall, fence or some combination of the two, according to The Wall Street Journal. He has also made implausible promises like vowing to force Mexico to pay for the wall, a pledge that he has never been able to translate into realistic action.
In the current bill, Trump only gets $1.6 billion for his border wall — and less than half of the 95 miles impacted by the bill would actually see new border wall constructed (the rest would involve repairing existing structures).
Even setting aside the immediate crises involving the status of innocent undocumented immigrants or the fiscal threat of a government shutdown, Trump's poor leadership on this issue — as well as on a host of others that have popped up since he became president in January 2017 — speak to a deeper, almost existential problem within the Republican Party.
It is one thing for a president to flounder in passing his agenda and keeping the government operational during a time when he isn't in control of both houses of Congress — think of the last two years of George W. Bush's administration or the last six years of Barack Obama's. When a president is in control of both houses of Congress, however, there is little room for excuses when he can't even succeed at simple matters like keeping the government funded and passing bills that the vast majority of his party can agree upon.
The fact that Trump faces this predicament, and has done so virtually without break since taking office, speaks to the fact that he is less akin to Andrew Jackson (his favorite president) or Ronald Reagan (the last president to usher in a wave of major right-wing policy achievements) and is instead the Republican answer to the most infamously incompetent Democratic president, Jimmy Carter.
This analysis has nothing to do with the substance of the policies being proposed by Trump and his Republican supporters. One does not have to admire or agree with Franklin Roosevelt or George W. Bush to recognize that they were effective in implementing their respective agendas. With Trump, we have a president whose impulsive and uncontrollable behavior has repeatedly emerged as the main reason why the government can't get things done, despite the fact that his own party is in control of it.