As we approach the end of the year, the news that is dominating is the possibility of yet another government shutdown, starting at midnight tonight unless Congress passes a funding bill to keep it open. There has been a lot of posturing on this, with Donald trump demanding $5 billion for the wall and Democrats saying that was not going to happen. The high point was the very public and testy exchange between Trump and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer where they goaded him into impulsively taking responsibility for any shutdown, saying that he would be proud to do so.
Trump seemed to realize later that this may not have been the smartest move and sent out various signals that he would not shut down the government. His rationalizations were all over the place: the wall was already built, the existing wall was working to keep people out, he could get the military to build it, he could find money elsewhere to build it, and the trade deal that he had made with Mexico and Canada had generated more revenue than was needed to build the wall. These statements were not only contradictory but also made no sense, but that has become a feature of this administration.
Then Trump got a great deal of flak from the extreme right wing media personalities, the people he seems to pay most attention to, that he had caved on this much-cherished issue and yesterday he announced that he was indeed going to shut down the government if he didn’t get the $5 billion. His obedient puppy, outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan, in his last act of slavish subservience to Trump before he mercifully leaves Congress, managed to round up enough Republicans last night to pass a funding bill through February 8, 2019 with the wall money in it by a margin of 217-185. No Democrats voted for it and eight Republicans voted against it. This now has to be passed by the Senate before it goes to Trump to sign, and that is where the drama will be today. Many senators who had already left town for the Christmas holidays thinking the issue was settled now had to return to vote on this bill, which is seen as a pointless exercise.
Trump is vowing to set in motion a long shutdown and trying to put the blame back on Democrats after proudly claiming ownership of it. The last time there was an extended shutdown back in 2014, about one million people were furloughed, meaning they were sent home without pay for two weeks, while essential personnel had to work but also without pay. After the government re-opened, everyone got their back pay, which meant that the furloughed people essentially got two extra weeks of paid vacation.
As an amusing aside (and we need a laugh now and then), apparently word has come down from the White House that “the wall” should now be referred to as just “wall”, the result being that the speakers now sound like the Hulk (or should I say “Hulk”?) Watch Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen at a congressional hearing yesterday, saying “I would ask for wall. We need wall.” Weird.
"I would ask for wall. We need wall." pic.twitter.com/mkgHZWFgyI
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) December 20, 2018
Hulk angry. Hulk smash wall.
But that is not all. Secretary of defense Jim Mattis abruptly resigned yesterday and his letter seems to make clear that he was doing because of his unhappiness over Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. Whatever one thinks of the Syria decision or of Mattis himself, this marks one of the rare occasions where a cabinet official is resigning on principle over an issue. The only other time that comes to mind is Cyrus Vance resigning as secretary of state over Jimmy Carter’s decision to launch a rescue mission to free the US employees being held hostage in the embassy in Tehran in 1980.
One piece of good news is that press secretary Sarah Sanders is also leaving. Has there ever been a worse liar who served in that role? All press secretaries lie but few have done it as incompetently, brazenly, or nastily as Sanders. She can now spend more time with her equally awful father Mike Huckabee, a man who uses his religious training as a pastor to put a gloss on his hateful views.
Seth Meyers reflects on the shambles that is now unfolding.