The shutdown was proof of Trump’s stark incapacity for leadership
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S temper tantrum over Congress’s refusal to fund a border wall paralyzed much of the government for five weeks, sapped the morale and wallets of hundreds of thousands of federal workers and low-wage contractors, left millions of Americans disgusted and dismayed, and diminished the United States in the eyes of the world. The impasse was proof of the president’s stark incapacity for leadership, which he reconfirmed Friday by threatening to re-shutter the government in three weeks.
In announcing his non-deal with Congress — in fact, it is more cease-fire than solution — Mr. Trump rehashed his tired and truth-free arguments, asserting against logic and evidence that building a massive new border wall, to supplement hundreds of miles of barriers already in place along high-trafficked segments of the border, would cause crime to plummet and drug trafficking to dry up.
He has lost that argument with the American people, a majority of whom oppose building the wall and blame him and Republicans in Congress for the shutdown, according to the latest Post-ABC News poll. Mindful of that, of the cascading economic costs related to the government closure and of the latest shutdown-related calamity — Friday’s massive flight delays along the Eastern Seaboard owing to a shortage of air traffic controllers — the president agreed to reopen the government until Feb. 15, with no new funding for a border wall for now. Score one for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), though no one is going to celebrate a national debacle such as this.
In the aftermath of such a pointless episode, the best hope is for Congress to step forward and shape a deal. It might include a new law, valid for at least the next two years, to prevent another shutdown. It would deliver back pay to low- and moderate-wage contract workers, such as security guards and cafeteria cooks, as Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and others have proposed. And it would combine some rational border security with some merciful immigration reform.
In that last arena, the contours of a way forward are no secret. If Mr. Trump continues to insist on funding for a piece of wall, which he says is a matter of “no choice,” he should offer serious concessions on immigration to the Democrats — not the phony package peppered with poison pills that he rolled out a week ago, but a secure future for two groups whose protections from deportation he has tried to rescind: “dreamers” brought to this country as children by their parents, and migrants who have been living legally in the United States on temporary protected status, having fled unrest and natural disasters at home. For the dreamers, that would mean a path to legal status for 1.5 million or more of them who are eligible for the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
If Mr. Trump resists that — if he reverts to another shutdown in which he again treats as pawns hundreds of thousands of the “incredible” federal workers he lauded on Friday — he will simply pile failure upon failure. If he declares an emergency as a means to divert federal funds for building a wall, he will invite litigation in what amounts to a profoundly undemocratic end run.
Mr. Trump has failed as a dealmaker. Congress might yet salvage something worthwhile from this sorry episode.