Shutdown Showdown

Democrats Can’t Compromise as Trump and the GOP Take Political Hostages

Imagine a world in which Democrats simply said no, and vowed to keep saying no until all of their demands are met.


Welcome to Donald Trump’s America, where Republicans enablers in Congress codify the racism pushed out of the White House in a modern-day Sophie’s choice. They are demanding that Democrats decide which hostage gets saved: 800,000 young people subject to the DREAM Act, or 9 million kids whose health insurance dies when CHIP funding expires in March.

To be clear, both groups were harmed by Republicans in the first place.

Donald Trump didn’t have to rescind DACA, which was a presidential directive of his predecessor, President Barack Obama. But he did.

Republicans could codify DACA into law at any time. Their leadership alone has the power to bring these bills, plus a comprehensive immigration bill that would also address renewing Temporary Protected Status for Haitians and El Salvadorans and a renewal of the visa lottery program to the floor. The compromise crafted by Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin would pass easily if a vote on it was allowed. McConnell’s feint, pretending Republicans first must divine what the man-child of Mar-a-Lago really, really wants is nonsense.

The president of the United States does not direct Congress. Congress is a co-equal branch of government designed to pass bills and send them to the president for signature or veto. McConnell and Ryan are free to do that any time they want.

Republicans could have renewed CHIP when it expired last fall, when then were using every strong arm tactic in the book to ram through a deficit-busting $1.5 trillion tax cut for millionaires including themselves, their billionaire donors and big corporations. But they didn’t.

The GOP could reauthorize the children’s healthcare program for the six years laid out in the temporary spending measure before them via a clean bill any time they want.  

They didn’t because those things didn’t really matter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and their fellow Monopoly men. They preferred to have the CHIP kids locked in a dark room, to be sprung only if Democrats do as they are told.

This kind of Mafioso government has become the norm, not just in the Trump era but from the moment Republicans took control of Congress in 2010. Since then, McConnell in particular has practiced a uniquely brutal kind of politics: refusing to give President Obama a single Republican vote on any initiative, holding a Supreme Court seat out of reach like a keep-away ball and literally vowing to keep it empty until such time as there was a Republican president, shutting Democrats out while Republicans and their lobbyists wrote bills designed to strip tens of millions of Americans of healthcare, and, of course, that tax bill.

Republicans are in sole and complete control of the federal government, holding the White House and both houses of Congress. For Ryan and McConnell and friends to try and blame Democrats for a potential shutdown is absurd, particularly when McConnell himself lacks 50 Republican votes for the bill to fund the government for a few more weeks.

Beyond the absurdity, at this point, what good faith have Republicans demonstrated that should induce Democrats to save them from themselves? Why shouldn’t they walk away from the table entirely, on the basis of the president’s racism and his party’s duplicity?

Of course, Democrats won’t do that. Even when Republicans literally lock them out of the room they keep politely knocking on the door. Senator Chuck Schumer continues to negotiate with the president, to try and get him his ticket to his fancy Florida resort for the anniversary party he’s clearly dying to be at.

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But in this case, “compromise” would mean giving in to Trump’s offensive and absurd demands: a wall (see through or not) across the southern border, which would be paid for by American taxpayers, rather than Mexico; gutting the diversity visa lottery system that grants green cards to some 15,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa each year,, and ending the kind of chain migration that brought to America the families of the Irish and Germans in the early 20th Century, the Italians and Poles in the 1930s, and my own family from the Caribbean and Africa in the 1960s; and replacing normal, historically beneficial immigration with something Trump and his white nationalist pals deem “merit.”

The irony clearly escapes Trump — who has married immigrants two out of three times including his current, beleaguered wife — that his own paternal grandfather arrived in the United States at age 16, speaking no English, having skedaddled out of Bavaria to avoid military service. Friedrich Drumpf, as he was called before his son Fred changed the family surname to Trump, which he thought would help the family pass itself off as Swedish, ran prostitutes to gold prospectors after he himself failed to find gold during the Alaskan gold rush, and was unable to return home because the Bavarian crown considered him a draft dodger and barred him from ever returning. Trump’s mother, who came to America from Scotland, found her version of “merit” as a domestic before marrying old name-changing Fred, who distinguished himself by getting arrested at a Klan rally in 1927 and later by refusing to rent apartments in Queens to black people.

As to Melania, we’re still awaiting press conference Trump promised that would prove she didn’t work illegally in the U.S. while on a tourist visa in the 1990s.

So Trump, who only hires immigrants (ironically, mainly Haitians) to do the grunt work at Mar-a-Lago and whose son-in-law Jared’s company is being investigated by the SEC for potentially hawking EB-5 visas to Chinese businesspeople willing to invest in Kushner Co. real estate deals, is the last person who should be playing father knows best on immigration. His xenophobic base and their obsession with locking out brown people and defunding “sanctuary cities” should hold no sway over the American majority.

Democrats are being asked to negotiate with an administration whose key members hue to the 1920s-era immigration views of the current attorney general, Jefferson Sessions and his vile former deputy Stephen Miller, whose ghastly visage stalks the White House. These men seek to roll back the immigration act of 1965 to reinstate the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which overtly favored the importation of European stock. They aren’t even trying to hide it. And clearly, the president of the United States (and by all accounts, his increasingly sinister chief of staff, General John Kelly) agree with them.

Democrats are being asked to sit down at the table with Tom Cotton and David Purdue, who lied for Trump and threw fellow members of congress under the bus, all to enact their own draconian anti-immigration bill.

Imagine a world in which Democrats simply said no, and vowed to keep saying no until ALL of their demands are met: meaning legalization of DACA, full reinstatement of TPS for Haitians, Salvadorans and others, and the legal codification of the visa lottery program including African, Asian and other countries, and that six year extension of CHIP to boot. Imagine Democrats saying all or nothing. Deal or no deal.

To be clear, any government shutdown of any length is on the heads of the Republicans and Trump. To repeat: they control the entire federal government. If Republicans want the national parks to stay open (well until Ryan Zinke hands them over to the drillers and frackers) they can quite easily capitulate, and allow votes on policies that are popular across the political divide.

On May 8, 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave an extraordinary interview to NBC News producer Sander Vanocur reflecting on his “I have a Dream” speech given at the March on Washington in August 1963 and declaring his earlier optimism about the course of American society to have been premature.

“I think the biggest problem is that we got our gains over the last 12 years at bargain rates so to speak,” King told Vanocur. “It didn’t cost the nation anything, in fact it helped the economic side of the nation to integrate lunch counters and public accommodations—it didn’t cost the nation anything to get the right to vote established. Now we are confronting issues that cannot be solved without costing the nation billions of dollars.”

Likewise, the kind of bland compromises urged by the political-media class, with Democrats being the most frequent targets of the tut-tutting to “make a deal,” has allowed the Republican Party’s radicalism to be virtually cost-free. The GOP paid no price for shutting down the government in 2013 over their desire to strip millions of Americans of healthcare. They paid no price for holding a Supreme Court seat hostage. They paid no price for refusing to help the country defend itself against Russian election meddling if that meant standing in the way of electing a Republican president.

Donald Trump does not exist in a vacuum. He belongs to his party and they to him. They have been his handmaidens and his nursemaids. They have allowed his daily humiliation of this nation to go on untrammeled. They have refused to act as a co-equal branch of government and to restrain him in any way. His failures are their failures, and his shutdown is their shutdown.

Democrats are not wrong to hold out. Call it “the art of the deal.”