The longest government shutdown in U.S. history is finally over.
The government is back open — at least until Feb. 15 — after President Trump announced Friday that he would be in favor of opening and funding it for three weeks while he and congressional negotiators try to work out a broader deal on immigration and border security. Congress then quickly acted to reopen the government Friday evening.
There are no two ways about it — Trump caved.
He blinked Wednesday night when he agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he would not deliver the State of the Union address next week from the House chamber until the shutdown ends. Then, early Friday afternoon, after a day dominated by the news that his former political adviser Roger Stone was indicted as part of the Mueller Russia probe, Trump completely gave in.
Why? The shutdown was taking a political toll on the president, and Democrats showed no signs of budging on negotiating over border wall funding while the government was shut down.
So what did we learn from this standoff and what happens now? Here are seven takeaways:
1. Nancy Pelosi outmaneuvered Trump, and now she’s strengthened
It might be hard to remember, but there was a time — about a month and a half ago — when Nancy Pelosi was no sure bet to rise to speaker again. She had a restive group of Democratic freshmen, who wanted a younger generation of leaders to emerge for the party.
Now, for most Democrats, there’s probably no one else they could imagine in that role right now. Trump has seemed flummoxed on how to deal with Pelosi (or as he calls her, “Nancy”) since the Dec. 11 meeting in the Oval Office — 10 days before the shutdown began — with Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer.
Pelosi was determined to make Trump understand that Congress is a co-equal branch of government, and now with this win, Trump, ironically, helped sew up Pelosi’s place as a strong speaker.
Call it growing pains for Trump, but he is having a difficult time adjusting to the new power dynamic in Washington, a consequence of Democrats taking back the House after the 2018 elections.
2. Trump has put himself in a box
Before the shutdown, the president was all set to sign off on a short-term deal to keep the government open, but it wouldn’t have included funding for a wall. And then came the backlash from some corners of conservative media.
On Friday, there was again an outcry. Right-wing website Gateway Pundit’s headline after Trump’s speech: “TRUMP CAVES! Ends Shutdown with NO BORDER WALL….”
Commentator Ann Coulter called him “the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.”
The president responded to the outcry in a tweet: “This was in no way a concession.”
It’s highly unlikely that the base abandons Trump. Prior predictions of that have failed. And many callers Friday into conservative talk radio shows seemed to have the president’s back. But Trump has done little to reach beyond his base in the two years since he has become president. He has alienated large portions of the country and has seen massive declines with the middle.
His base might return, but his political skills are about to be tested, because he likely needs to mitigate some of the damage he’s done with independents. And that’s a box he built for himself.
3. Shutting down the government is more of a third rail for Trump than not building a wall
Trump has been badly damaged during this partial shutdown — majorities have mostly blamed him instead of Democrats; his approval ratings have slipped, even with his base; and large numbers of people said shutting down the government for wall funding is not a good idea or strategy.
There’s a pause now, and there are three weeks to figure out a long-term solution, but will the president now be more cautious about shutting down the government? There’s a reason there wasn’t a shutdown for almost 20 years after the 1995-1996 shutdown, which is now the second-longest shutdown in history.
4. Is Trump laying the groundwork for a bold move?
To that point, if there’s no agreement in the next three weeks, will the president pull the trigger and invoke a “national emergency” to fund a wall?
He noted that he could do so, during his speech Friday from the Rose Garden at the White House.
“I have a very powerful alternative,” Trump said, “but I didn’t want to use it at this time.”
He added, “I think we have a chance, yeah. I think we have a good chance [to get a deal]. We’ll work with the Democrats and negotiate, and if we can’t do that, then we’ll do a — obviously we’ll do the emergency because that’s what it is, it’s a national emergency.”
That could come with its own political consequences, and it might not hold up in court – another loss the president would like to avoid.
5. Do Democrats give at least some on a wall now that they got the government back open?
Democrats had been prepared to offer a big pot of money that could be as much as $5.7 billion or more for border security as part of funding for the Department of Homeland Security. That could have included money for new fencing or fixes, and Schumer indicated Friday that there are plenty of measures Democrats can support — drug screening, ports of entry security, humanitarian needs.
But what is a wall, and how it can get built, is very much open to debate and interpretation.
Pelosi was asked about wall money Friday after Trump’s announcement, and she said: “Have I not been clear on a wall? Ok. No, I’ve been very clear on the wall.”
She has, so far, said no to anything more than $1 for a “wall.” But can Democrats sustain saying “no” indefinitely? Polling, so far, has been very much on Democrats’ side during the shutdown, but there was at least one number that should give them pause. CBS found that 52 percent believe Democrats should accept a budget that includes money for a wall.
6. Americans’ eyes may have been opened some to just what government does
During this shutdown, the costs and consequences of a shutdown have become clear. Federal employees and contractors across the country who weren’t getting paid were directly affected. And there have been further ripples for the economy – think landlords and small businesses serving those workers worried about their own bills.
Americans are generally disconnected from government, but large majorities said the shutdown – with trash piling over at national parks and closed D.C. museums — was “embarrassing.”
7. Expect lines of attack from 2020 Democrats
Trump also gave 2020 Democrats openings — on competence and empathy. Trump’s vacillations on the negotiations show him to be hardly The Art of the Deal protagonist he bills himself as.
Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ comments that he didn’t understand why some federal workers were going to food pantries and not taking out loans also handed Democrats a gift.
“It’s really hard for some in the administration to understand how people live paycheck to paycheck and how marginal some of their existences are,” Pelosi said Friday after Trump spoke.
Expect Democrats eyeing the White House in 2020 to pick that up in similar ways on the campaign trail, painting the Trump administration as one of out-of-touch multimillionaires and billionaires (a central theme of Elizabeth Warren’s early campaign messages). That’s an image Republicans have had trouble shedding in past presidential years, and Ross’ comments won’t help.