By Gene Lyons
Andrews McMeel Syndication
If the recent brief government shutdown accomplished nothing else, it sent Donald Trump into hiding for three days, no small blessing.
Somebody convinced him that golfing in Florida would look bad, and his minders didn’t trust him to do any actual negotiating, so the president holed up in the White House watching TV and yakking on the phone. Incidentally, can’t Melania do something about his low-rent habit of wearing a hat in the house? Assuming that she’s even talking to the big dope in the wake of this porn star business in The Wall Street Journal.
Anyway, if I want to see a countdown clock in the corner of the screen, I’ll watch a ballgame. The TV news networks’ turning congressional politics into ratings-building melodrama, complete with good guys, bad guys and manufactured suspense, definitely ain’t helping. It rewards dogmatism over pragmatism, reducing complex issues to a simple game with clear-cut winners and losers.
That’s what the NFL playoffs are for. But it’s basically the opposite of what the Founders intended the U.S. Senate to be. Sure, Election Day can be exciting, but the shutdown drama was just bad TV. Cable news channels devoted last weekend to showing politicians milling about in Senate chambers waiting for something to happen.
Evidently nothing of interest was taking place anywhere else in the world. Observing the spectacle, it was easy to agree with Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana: “Our country was founded by geniuses, but it’s being run by idiots,” he said.
Kennedy, a Republican, probably didn’t mean to say that the head idiots are named Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. But the GOP does control the White House and both houses of Congress. And it’s important to understand how those worthies connived to tempt Democrats into picking a fight they couldn’t possibly win – pretty much as the party’s embittered left-wing now insists minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer should have done.
New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg led the charge. “’Make no mistake: Schumer and Dems caved,’ tweeted Fox News’ Brit Hume. ‘What a political fiasco.’ It makes me sick to say it,” Goldberg wrote, “but he’s right.”
Goldberg also quoted one Ezra Levin, identified as the co-founder of a left-wing advocacy group modeled on the Tea Party. “It’s Senator Schumer’s job as minority leader to keep his caucus together and stand up for progressive values and he failed to do it,” Levin said. “He led them off a cliff. They caved.”
Time to fold
But probably because I spend more time watching ballgames than MSNBC, I tend to see things differently. See, there’s no such thing as a six-run home run. You can’t throw a Hail Mary pass for a 21-point touchdown. Poker players understand that when you’re holding a pair of sixes, it’s time to fold and play another hand. Which is basically what Schumer did.
Did shutting down the U.S. government in 1995 help Newt Gingrich prevail in a budget struggle against President Clinton? It did not, and it led to Clinton’s easy re-election. Did Republicans shutting down the government in 2013 lead President Obama to ditch the Affordable Care Act? No. What’s more, for all its huffing and puffing, the GOP still hasn’t been able to kill the law.
Sen. Schumer simply didn’t have the votes to make anything happen.
Meanwhile, the top trending hashtag pushed by Russian bots on Twitter was #SchumerShutdown. Trump’s Kremlin supporters have a strong interest in promoting ethnic and racial discord in the U.S. They hope to use the DACA, or “Dreamers,” issue to divide and weaken the country. So do hardline anti-immigrant Republicans, such as White House aide Stephen Miller and a minority of GOP hotheads in the House.
But they haven’t got the votes either. Not even close. Indeed, even the most recent Fox News poll shows 83 percent of Americans support granting permanent resident status to the “Dreamers” – young workers, students and soldiers – brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents as small children.
Would even Trump be willing to start deporting these young Americans to countries they’ve never known starting next March? It’s hard to imagine. Indeed, compromise DACA legislation passed the Senate in 2013, and will almost surely pass again unless Senate Majority Leader McConnell goes back on his word in the glare of the spotlight Schumer’s compromise has put him in.
If so, Democrats could always vote for another shutdown until he relented.
Senate passage would then put Speaker Paul Ryan in a box. Very likely a bipartisan House majority would also support DACA – that is, if the Speaker lets them vote contrary to the “Hastert Rule,” ironically named for the famous GOP child molester and champion of one-party government.
Ryan wouldn’t allow it in 2013, but again thanks to Schumer’s compromise, the GOP now owns the issue.
As for the president, which one? The dealmaker or “Sh**hole Don”?
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President”