President Trump will declare a national emergency and seek money to build a border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, moments before the U.S. Senate passed a compromise spending bill that didn’t include wall funding.
If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it at right as his job approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January.
Indeed, the act of declaring a national emergency to build a wall is even more unpopular than the wall itself — and the wall isn’t popular. Polls as tracked by PollingReport.com show an average of 32 percent of Americans in favor of the declaration and 65 percent opposed. Even in an era where many of Trump’s top priorities poll only in the low-to-mid-40s, that’s an especially large split, with roughly twice as many voters opposed as in favor.
Voters strongly oppose a national emergency over the wall
Polls conducted during and since the partial government shutdown on whether Trump should declare a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border
Approve/ Support/ Should
Disapprove/ Oppose/ Should not
Jan. 30-Feb. 2
ABC News/Washington Post
The emergency plan could potentially become somewhat more popular if Trump tries to rally his base behind it, but it’s an issue that causes a fair amount of divisiveness even among Republican lawmakers.
And the strategy suggests that Trump didn’t learn any lessons from the shutdown. His approval rating, which was 42.2 percent on the day the shutdown began, bottomed out at 39.3 just as the shutdown was ending. It has since mostly recovered to 41.5 percent, however. Despite Trump’s having capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, the sky didn’t fall and the base stuck with Trump.
The mechanics of this are fairly straightforward. Trump indeed has a loyal1 base. That base is so loyal, however, that very little about what Trump does seems to affect their views or him. Here is Trump’s approval rating by party according to Gallup since the midterm elections, for example. Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating was steady at roughly 88 percent before, during and after the shutdown. Among Democrats, it was also largely unchanged.2 Among independents, however, his approval rating plunged from about 39 percent just before the shutdown to 31 and 32 percent in two polls conducted in the midst of it, before recovering to 38 percent once the shutdown was over.
Trump’s base remained loyal during the shutdown
Trump’s job approval rating, by party, before and after the government shutdown
Trump’s Approval Rating Among
Jan. 2-10, 2019
Nov. 26-Dec. 2
Nov. 12-18, 2018
Again, nothing here is rocket science. It’s Electoral Politics 101. Trump does unpopular stuff, and he becomes more unpopular. The erosion mostly comes from independents because Republicans are highly loyal to him and Democrats are already almost uniformly opposed.
But Trump will need those independents to win re-election. He needed them to become president in the first place. Trump won independents by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent for Hillary Clinton, in 2016. Had they gone for Clinton by 4 points instead, she would have won the national popular vote by 4 or 5 points, and won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly Arizona.
The public response had clear effects in Congress. Congressional Republicans had been unified behind the president in the early stages of the shutdown, but cracks started to emerge as it dragged on. In public, this was demonstrated on Thursday by six Senate Republicans voting for legislation put forward by Senate Democrats that would fund the government without money for the wall. And, in private, disagreement with the president’s strategy extended beyond those six. A meeting between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday reportedly turned into a venting session, with some senators scolding Pence for the White House’s strategy. Among the critics was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has the power to bring forward legislation, whether Trump likes it or not.
We don’t know much about the private discussions between McConnell and the White House, but it’s possible that Trump folded in part because McConnell suggested Senate Republicans would likely move forward soon with legislation funding the government without paying for the wall — with or without the president’s support. Although Trump, in a Rose Garden speech on Friday, acted as if it were his decision to end the shutdown, the decision to fold may not truly have been Trump’s to make, and the speech may have been McConnell allowing the president to save face and concede before the Republicans in the Senate fully broke with him.
To be clear, it’s not certain that Trump has lost the broader fight over the wall. It’s hard to see congressional Democrats offering much funding for it, but maybe they will agree to some kind of compromise that includes a few billion dollars. (I wouldn’t bet on this, as liberal Democratic opposition to the wall seems to be hardening.) Or, as he suggested on Friday, Trump could declare a national emergency and reallocate funds from other parts of the government to finance a wall. Such a move will almost certainly draw legal challenges. But Trump might win in the courts, as he (eventually) did on his executive order banning travel from certain countries into the United States.
For now, however, we’re back to where we were when the shutdown began. Trump and Congress have three weeks to figure out a solution. In public, at least, all sides are staking out the same positions they held when the shutdown started. Trump will likely need a different strategy going forward. The one he employed over the last month — shutting down the government (which is unpopular) to get the wall (which is unpopular) — could not keep his party united forever.
Welcome to a special weekend-edition of FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
micah (Micah Cohen, managing editor): Hey, everyone! We’ve convened here on a weekend(!) to talk about President Trump’s address to the nation on Saturday. Trump called the country together to make an offer to Democrats to try to end the partial government shutdown, now more than 28 days old.
Here’s Trump’s offer, summarized by Bloomberg News reporter Sahil Kapur:
President Trump outlines his offer:
• $800 million for “urgent humanitarian assistance”
So, the question in front of us: Is this offer likely to end the shutdown? And, more generally, is this a smart move politically by Trump, who’s seen his job approval rating erode as the shutdown has dragged on?
Let’s briefly start with that first question. What do you make of Trump’s offer? Will it bring about the end of the shutdown?
perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): It’s not at all likely to end the shutdown. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bashed the proposal before the speech started (once reports came out with Trump’s offer). He didn’t consult Democrats before the proposal was released. It’s not clear he was even really trying to get Democrats to sign onto this.
sarahf: Yeah, what I don’t understand about the proposal is that it was negotiated without any Democratic input. It was just Vice President Mike Pence, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talking with fellow Republicans.
natesilver: I mean, there are some permutations where this is the beginning of the end of the shutdown, I suppose.
Those have to involve some combination of (i) Trump offering a better deal than what he’s offering right now, and (ii) public opinion shifting to put more pressure on Democrats.
micah: So is the best way to look at this address as basically a political ploy — an attempt to change the politics of the shutdown? (I don’t mean “ploy” in a negative sense.)
perry: I think that’s the only way to look at this.
natesilver: The real audience for the speech is likely the media. Because we’re the only people sick enough to actually waste our Saturdays watching this thing.
slackbot: I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. There is Advil, Aleve and Tylenol in the cabinet in front of Nate’s office/Vanessa’s desk.
natesilver: lol, slackbot
Anyway, in theory, “we’re willing to compromise and Democrats” aren’t is a perfectly decent message. It’s BS in various ways (mostly because the compromise Trump is offering isn’t too good). But it’s a fairly conventional message — to sell a not-very-great compromise as being a good deal.
sarahf: Right now, Americans overwhelmingly continue to blame Trump and congressional Republicans for the shutdown. Saturday’s speech seemed like an attempt on his part to try and shift some of that narrative by outlining a proposal that definitely seemed like a compromise.
perry: And I think it has as few potential good effects for Trump. First, it may help keep Republicans on Capitol Hill aligned with him. They were getting leery of his wall-only strategy. This makes it easier for the party to unify around him.
Second, Trump’s proposal allows McConnell to hold a vote and suggest he and his chamber are trying to resolve the shutdown too, just like the House is doing.
Finally, I assume, when pollsters ask people about this proposal, it will be more popular than the wall itself. My guess is it will be near 50 percent support and perhaps higher. Most people I assume aren’t totally against any money for the wall and feel like Dreamers must have a path to citizenship or else.
sarahf: And I don’t know if it’s a good look for Democratic leaders like Pelosi to immediately come out the gate saying, “nope this doesn’t work.” Then again, they weren’t consulted in the making of the deal it sounds like, so maybe she’d be better off highlighting that.
natesilver: I did think it was weird that Trump opened the address with a sort of uncharacteristically gentle paean to the virtues of legal immigration, but then careened to talking about drugs and gangs and violence and some of the other stuff that doesn’t usually pass a fact check. If you actually wanted to portray an image of bipartisanship, you could skip most of that stuff. Or you could talk about how there were extremists on both sides — call out Republicans for X and Y reason.
micah: Well …
I do wonder if this could change the politics of the shutdown in more than one way, as Perry was getting at.
It could make Democrats look like the intransigent side, as you were all saying.
But, it could also shift the narrative towards more “border crisis” and less “wall.” And that’s better political ground for Trump. Polls show more people believe there is a crisis at the border than support a wall.
sarahf: Right, last week we looked at different pollsters who asked Americans what they thought of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. I was surprised by the number of Americans who thought it was a serious problem or a crisis. Fifty-four percent of respondents in a Quinnipiac poll said they believed there was a security crisis along the border with Mexico. And in a CBS News/YouGov poll, 55 percent said the situation was “a problem, but not a crisis.”
natesilver: It could shift things — although, again, it’s worth mentioning that the deal Trump offered isn’t really much of a deal at all.
In fact, it offers a bit less than what they floated last night.
That was my read too -& this is a crucial distinction Democrats are already seizing upon. WH officials last night said it was the Bridge Act-& confirmed that to other reporters today-but what Trump announced just now is NOT the Bridge Act, it's a more limited twist on it. https://t.co/CxX154n9As
The DACA part itself is a compromise, but to get that compromise, Democrats have to give up something (wall funding) that they’re firmly opposed to.
Although, it probably is fair to say that the wall is also a compromise of sorts. As Trump actually emphasized. It’s not all that much wall. It’s certainly not a big concrete wall stretching the length of the border.
natesilver: Right, and Trump hasn’t really made the case as to why a wall is necessary to stop the humanitarian crisis at the border.
The other thing is that … none of this is really new. This compromise, if you want to call it that, has been around for a long time. Democrats have rejected it because it doesn’t give them enough. They rejectedbetter versions of this compromise before the shutdown began, in fact.
And Democrats have more leverage now than then because Trump needs the shutdown to end a lot more than they do — it’s hurting him politically.
micah: I guess my point is more that the convo may change.
perry: To put this bluntly, I think this speech had two audiences the media (so they will do “both sides” coverage) and Republicans (so they will stay loyal to Trump on this issue). I assume this speech will buy him at least of few days of that. And both of those, as Micah suggests, will help with the public opinion.
Like some kind of nod to their hardship. But nada.
perry: They’re all Democrats.
I’m joking, but that is what he thinks.
natesilver: The question is partly: will the press run with Trump’s frame?
micah: Nate, I don’t know if the media will run with it.
The headline in the lower-third on CNN right now is “Pelosi rejects Trump’s proposal to end shutdown.”
perry: Trump may have bought himself at least another week to sustain this shutdown. Next week will be 1. Pelosi rejected Trump’s idea before he spoke, and 2. Senate holds vote and Democrats filibuster.
You all disagree?
micah: I think that’s right, Perry.
As we’re chatting, here’s Politico’s headline: “Trump’s bid to negotiate on wall met by Democratic rejection”
The Washington Post: “Trump offers to protect ‘dreamers’ temporarily in exchange for wall funds”
Dallas Morning News: “Trump seeks border wall funding in exchange for DACA protections to end shutdown”
natesilver: There’s at least some semi-intelligent understanding on the White House’s part of how media dynamics work.
At least parts of the speech play well into the media’s “both sides-ism.”
micah: NBC News: “Trump offers new shutdown deal, Democrats expected to reject it”
Los Angeles Times: “President Trump proposes to extend protections for ‘Dreamers’ in exchange for border wall funding”
ABC News: “Trump will extend ‘Dreamers,’ TPS protection in exchange for full border wall funding”
CBS News: “Trump proposes deal on immigration, Pelosi calls shutdown offer a ‘non-starter’”
natesilver: But the thing about that NBC headline is that the “new” part is pretty misleading.
perry: Those are great headlines for Trump. Considering the reality is closer to this:
Isn't this a kind of hostage-taking squared? First end the programs. Then shut the government. Then promise to temporarily restore the programs you've ended & reopen the govt you have closed, in return for the ransom of $ for a wall that 55-60% of country consistent opposes? https://t.co/PhsMABh6VC
perry: I also think that keeping the Lindsey Graham’s of the world happy is something Trump cares about. The Republicans on the Sunday shows now have something to say. So do the Will Hurd’s.
micah: Very good point.
perry: Pelosi and Democrats, I would argue, were more unified than Republicans before this speech. But I wonder if some moderate Democrats start getting nervous now.
natesilver: The path here is like:
1. Trump and Republicans maintain some degree of message discipline for a week or so;
1b. Trump and Republicans don’t face too many defections from their own base;
2. Polling and other indications show that blame for the shutdown is shifting away from Trump and toward Democrats;
2b. There aren’t any strikes or planes falling from the sky that create a crisis and force an immediate end to the shutdown;
3. Trump offers Democrats a little bit — maybe quite a bit — more.
If all of that happens, maybe he gets a deal!
And no one of those steps is *that* crazy.
perry: So the fundamentals of this issue have not changed, you are saying, Nate?
natesilver: I don’t really think it changed anything.
perry: I agree.
natesilver: Except Trump made a chess move to advance the game instead of just sitting there petulantly staring at his opponent and watching his clock run down.
micah: “It gives him some more time” is a good read, I think.
natesilver: It was an extremely standard chess move, but at least it was a move!
sarahf: Well, I mean leading up to this speech there had been some speculation he’d declare a national emergency. And he didn’t do that.
So all things considered, I think this was a much smarter political move to make.
natesilver: Oh yeah, this is definitely better than that.
sarahf: Because I do think at this point Democrats have to say something other than, “we won’t support this.”
natesilver: It was, like, almost what a normal president with a competent group of advisors would do!
sarahf: Hahaha yeah
natesilver: But it will require a lot of follow through.
perry: I think Trump is aware that declaring a national emergency is a “loss.” He doesn’t want a “loss.” I don’t know how he gets a win. I actually think, this proposal, if it was passed, would very much irritate the right.
I will be curious how the right receives this idea.
natesilver: Coulter attacked it … although… you could almost say that’s helpful for Trump.
perry: Good point.
It makes it seem like more of a compromise if the right hates it.
natesilver: Now, if he loses the votes from several conservative Republicans in the Senate, then he’s screwed.
Or if he himself has second thoughts because Sean Hannity calls him tonight, he could screw himself.
perry: That’s an interesting question: Can Sen. Ted Cruz vote for this?
Can it actually pass the Senate?
micah: That is interesting!
perry: Because I assume part of the play here is for Republicans in the Senate to be seen doing something about the shutdown.
Would Sens. Susan Collins and Cory Gardner support this from the left-wing of the GOP? I think yes. But would Cruz, and some of the more hard-core immigration members on the more conservative wing of the party?
I assume yes, but I’m not sure.
micah: Wouldn’t you assume he cleared this with the Cruz’s of the world before unveiling it?
perry: I would not at all assume that.
That was a soft-ball.
perry: McConnell maybe.
sarahf: Yeah, I’m not picturing mass Republican defections here in the Senate … I guess just because McConnell seems to have been so heavily involved in negotiating this.
natesilver: Right, yeah
perry: Do we think any Democrats vote for it?
Doug Jones? Joe Manchin?
I assume no, right?
natesilver: Manchin maybe.
He voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, so it’s not exactly like he’s worried about stoking the ire of the Democratic base.
sarahf: But it does make you wonder why Trump ever listened to Mark Meadows and the Freedom Caucus in the first place getting into this mess.
Wouldn’t have $1.7 billion or whatever it was and no extension for DACA, TPS, etc. have been more popular for them?
I guess none of it went to the wall. So maybe not. No way to appease anyone!
natesilver: Right, the $1.7 billion didn’t specifically include border wall funding though.
perry: Another question: I think I’m a believer in the distraction theory, so would Trump have scheduled this speech if he knew Buzzfeed’s Michael Cohen story would be so heavily criticized?
micah: He sorta stepped on a pretty good news cycle for him.
natesilver: Hmm. But the fact that he had a good news cycle probably means that today will be portrayed more favorably by the press.
So that gave him more incentive to do it.
perry: So you think the media, cowed by the coverage of the Cohen story, will cover this announcement more favorably than otherwise?
natesilver: The headlines we’re seeing are not “Embattled Trump desperately proposes already-rejected compromise in meandering speech,” but rather “Trump proposes new compromise and Pelosi rejects.”
micah: And you think the former is more accurate than the latter?
natesilver: I think “Trump again proposes already-rejected compromise in competent speech; Pelosi reiterates that she won’t agree” is roughly correct.
micah: The other thing maybe worth keeping in mind: The politics of the shutdown right now are really bad for Trump. Trump is unpopular, and the wall is even more unpopular. This is from our friends at The Upshot:
I guess what I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be too surprising if the politics of this improved for Trump after his speech, given where they are now. There’s plenty of room to improve.
Anyway … final thoughts?
perry: We know that presidential addresses generally don’t work. But Trump is making those political scientists look really smart.
sarahf: I think the fact that Trump didn’t consult Democratic leadership is a big ding against this proposal. But the fact that Trump did put forward some kind of compromise is something. It has the potential to change the politics around the shutdown.
It’ll be interesting to see what congressional Republicans actually put forward and what Democrats choose to counter with.
natesilver: I thought it was a bit weird at the end when Trump said this was just the start of negotiations on a much bigger immigration solution.
If this is just small potatoes stuff, Pelosi might ask, why do we need to keep the government shut down, when we’re going to have a much bigger discussion about immigration anyway?
That’s ultimately the question that Trump doesn’t really have a good answer for. Why do we need to keep the government shut down to have this negotiation?
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Pelosi will need to be clear about that in their own messaging.
At the same … I wonder if they also want to float, maybe on background because it does sort of contradict the message of “no negotiations at all while there’s a shutdown,” some notion of what a real compromise would look like. e.g. the full DREAM Act.
Or my idea: Offer HR1, the Democrats’ election reform/voting rights bill, in exchange for the border wall.
perry: The one reason I have a hard time seeing any deal being cut: “the wall is a monument to racism” is a real view on the left and has real influence. That makes it much harder Democrats to sign off on any money for the wall.
natesilver: Also, Republicans would presumably never agree to HR 1. But it moves the Overton Window (sorry if that’s become an overused concept now) and frames the idea that Republicans are nowhere near offering a fair compromise.
If the wall is so important to Trump — and he’s often talked about it as his signature priority — a fair offer now that we have bipartisan control of government would be to give Democrats what’s literally their No. 1 priority (given that they named the bill HR1) as well.
(That’s Pelosi’s hypothetical argument, not me necessarily endorsing the deal as fair to Republicans.)
micah: Yeah, that kind of deal seems a looooooong ways off.
The partial government shutdown is beginning to drag on President Trump’s approval rating, which is at its lowest point in months. As of early Wednesday evening, his approval rating was 40.2 percent, according to our tracking of public polling, down from 42.2 percent on Dec. 21, the day before the shutdown began. It’s his lowest score since last September. And Trump’s disapproval rating was 54.8 percent, up from 52.7 percent before the shutdown. His net approval rating, -14.6 percent, was at its lowest point since February 2018.
There shouldn’t be much doubt that the shutdown is behind the negative turn in Trump’s numbers. While there have been other newsworthy events over the past few weeks, such as turnover among Trump’s senior staffers and a wobbly stock market, the shift is well-timed to the start of the shutdown on Dec. 22. Trump’s approval ratings had been steady at about 42 percent for several months before the shutdown. Since then, they’ve been declining at a fairly linear rate of about half a point for every week that the shutdown has been underway, while his disapproval rating has increased by half a point per week. Trump’s increasingly negative ratings match polling showing Americans growing concerned about the shutdown and disliking Trump’s handling of it. In a Marist College poll that was released this week, for example, 61 percent of respondents said the shutdown had given them a more negative view of Trump, while just 28 percent said they felt more positively toward him.
So all of that sounds pretty bad for Trump. But will any of it really matter to Trump’s political standing, in the long run?
Moreover, there hasn’t been that much of a shift, so far. In the context of the narrow historic range of President Trump’s approval ratings, which have rarely been higher than 43 percent or lower than 37 percent, a 2-point shift might seem relatively large. But it’s still just 2 points, when many past presidents saw there numbers gyrate up and down by 5 or 10 points at a time.
But I wonder if that answer isn’t a little too glib. There are some reasons for Trump and Republicans to worry that the shutdown could have both short- and long-term downsides.
For one thing, there’s no particular sign that the shutdown is set to end any time soon. And if the decline in Trump’s approval rating were to continue at the same rate that it has so far, it would take his political standing from bad to worse. By Jan. 29, for example, the day that Trump was originally set to deliver the State of the Union address before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disinvited him from addressing Congress, his approval rating would be 39.3 percent, and his disapproval rating would be 55.9 percent. By March 1, at which point funding for federal food stamps could run out, his approval rating and disapproval rating would be 36.9 percent and 58.4 percent, respectively, roughly matching the lowest point of his presidency so far.
In addition, because this is already the longest shutdown in U.S. history, past precedent for the political impact of shutdowns may not be fully informative. There’s the possibility that the shutdown ends not with a whimper (with Trump caving or with he and Pelosi anticlimactically reaching a compromise) but instead with a literal or proverbial bang, such as the government bungling a response to a natural or man-made disaster.
Despite those possibilities, I’d still put a lot of weight toward our historical priors, which contain relatively good news for Trump. With almost 22 months to go until the election, it’s too early for either approval ratings or economic data to be highly predictive of a president’s re-election chances. Furthermore, approval ratings tend to rebound after shutdowns, and in any event, the decline in Trump’s numbers hasn’t been all that large, yet.
Nonetheless, if I were hoping for Trump’s re-election, there are two indirect reasons that the shutdown and its fallout would worry me. One has to do with his relationship with the congressional GOP; the other with his strategic posture toward his re-election bid.
The shutdown may have frayed Trump’s relationship with Republicans in Congress
Maybe Trump took some of the wrong lessons from 2016. Trump may mythologize 2016 as an election in which he was brought into the White House on the strength of his base, but that isn’t necessarily why he won. And even if it was, trying to duplicate the strategy might not work again:
He won’t necessarily be the preferred candidate for voters who are on the fence between Trump and his opponent. (In 2016, voters who disliked both Clinton and Trump went for Trump by 17 points.)
If he’s pursuing policies such as shutting down the government to demand a border wall, swing voters may no longer see Trump as a moderate, as (somewhat contrary to the conventional wisdom) they did in 2016.
Trump might or might not benefit from the same Electoral College advantage that he had in 2016.
Given that, perhaps 2018 is a better model for 2020 than 2016. In the midterms, voting closely tracked Trump’s approval ratings, and he paid the price for his unpopularity. According to the exit poll, midterm voters disapproved of Trump’s performance by a net of 9 percentage points. Not coincidentally, Republicans also lost the popular vote for the House by 9 percentage points.
There’s plenty of time for Trump’s numbers to improve, but for now, they’re getting worse. So while the shutdown’s consequences may not last into 2020, it has been another step in the wrong direction at a moment when presidents have usually pivoted to the center.
sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): In his first prime-time address to the nation, President Trump told Americans on Tuesday night that the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border was a crisis. He did not declare a national emergency to secure funding for his proposed border wall, but he did suggest that he wouldn’t end the partial government shutdown until funding for the wall was approved.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made it clear in their rebuttal that congressional Democrats were not prepared to give Trump what he’s asking for. Congressional leaders from both parties are scheduled to meet with Trump today, but at this stage, it doesn’t seem as though the government will reopen anytime soon.
So, I’m curious, where do we go from here? We seem to be at an impasse. And the stakes are such that neither party can back down. Is that accurate? What would happen if one party compromised? And Is there a way out of the shutdown that doesn’t require either party to compromise?
clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Can we start by talking about the television theater of the absurd on Tuesday night?
I thought it was a wildly useless exercise by both the president and the congressional leaders.
sarahf: It certainly was a departure from how previous presidents have used an address from the Oval Office. But it wasn’t clear to me who exactly Trump was trying to reach?
clare.malone: The public nature of it did, as you say, up the stakes for backing down. And maybe that was the point from Trump’s/the White House’s end?
It almost felt like he was just trying to remind everyone in America that there’s a shutdown and that the White House and Congress are having a slap fight.
perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): It felt like Trump was making a kind of Hail Mary. A majority of the public (51 percent) think the president deserves most of the blame for the partial shutdown, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll that was released Tuesday. But some Republican senators are balking at Trump’s strategy. That said, an address from the Oval Office is a card he can play that no one else can. But, yes, it was unlikely to work — presidential addresses don’t generally change minds, as Nathaniel noted. Plus, opinions on immigration are pretty entrenched, and Trump is fairly unpopular.
He talked about rapists and murderers, but from the Oval Office. It was fascinating from a historical perspective, I guess. The usurpation of a formula, that formula being the dignified, seemingly apolitical Oval Office address.
sarahf: There’s this ideafloatingaround that one purpose of last night’s address was to convince Americans that there is a crisis at its southern border. How could we measure if Trump succeeded in convincing Americans that was true?
perry: I tend to be skeptical of the kind of insider, access-based reporting through which we learned that Trump didn’t want to give the speech. Yes, I’m sure Trump said this, but it’s not like someone made him give the address. He is the president.
clare.malone: It was definitely meant to bring the crisis to Americans’ living rooms. But it seems like a move that doesn’t come from a position of strength. It feels more like a last ditch move of negotiation — a high-profile attempt to shift blame.
Not sure that will work …
nrakich: Yeah, the calm demeanor (unusual for Trump) plus the inflammatory words was a weird juxtaposition.
perry: My guess is that Trump will increase the number of Republicans who say we have an immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. That number is 72 percent, according to the latest Morning Consult poll. I could see that becoming 80 percent or 90 percent. But I doubt that he moved anyone else.
sarahf: So there was talk ahead of the address that Trump would use it to declare a national emergency to go around Congress and move ahead on building the wall. But that didn’t happen. Why?
Do we think it might still happen?
clare.malone: That’s an interesting question. It feels like a Rubicon to cross.
nrakich: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says it’s still on the table:
"It's something we're still looking at," says @PressSec of declaring a "national emergency" at the border. "It's something that's certainly still on the table," she says at WH driveway gaggle. But says "best solution" is a deal with Congress to fund border security. pic.twitter.com/5SIPRmMyA5
perry: I really think that’s still on the table. The move is legally questionable. There would be lawsuits. It would be seen as another violation of norms by Trump — inflating an emergency to get done what he can’t get done through Congress. But it’s also the easiest way out of this mess for Trump. Democratic lawmakers are very opposed to the wall, and some Republicans in Congress are not that excited about it either. Trump needs a way out of the shutdown without losing the fight, and declaring an emergency might be the cleanest approach. Yet, it’s also not clean at all, of course.
nrakich: Yeah, Jim Acosta of CNN tweeted that Trump has been seeking advice on it but is hearing that it would be on shaky legal ground.
clare.malone: Once again, the Trump era is a great era for lawyers’ billable hours.
nrakich: Question for you, Perry: Is there any way that this ends with Congress overriding a Trump veto on a funding bill?
It feels like there would be enough Republicans who don’t care about the wall to get to two-thirds of each chamber. We’re already seeing members who are up for re-election in 2020, like Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, backing away from the wall and calling for an end to the shutdown.
perry: I really don’t see that. I don’t think we are in a place yet where Republican senators or House members will buck Trump like that. It’s more likely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell passes a bill that has, say, $4 billion in border security funding, including $750 million or so for the wall. Maybe that can pass the House and Trump can sign it.
I think McConnell is a potentially big player here. A bipartisan bill passed in the Senate (and it must have 60 votes to pass the Senate, so it would have to be bipartisan) complicates the strategy for both Pelosi and Trump I think.
nrakich: Yeah, it’s almost always the president who “wins” in a government shutdown. Or at least this has been the case in previous shutdowns, but most of those times, presidents won only by making some sort of concession to their congressional agitators.
sarahf: We’ve also written that government shutdowns don’t typically have lasting negative repercussions for the party considered “responsible.” I do wonder, though, whether that could change in this situation, because the fight is over immigration, which is an issue that has become deeply symbolic for both parties — build the wall, don’t build the wall.
To some extent, doesn’t what’s happening now force Democrats to talk about immigration in 2020?
perry: I don’t think anyone will remember this shutdown by the time people are voting next, which is in almost two years, so I’m skeptical that this has much real electoral impact.
nrakich: I’m open to arguments that the political fallout from a record-long shutdown will also last a record-long amount of time, but, yeah, I agree with Perry — not two years.
clare.malone: I think it’s certainly a gauntlet being laid at the beginning of divided government in Washington, as they say.
It’s tone-setting, from both sides.
sarahf: Tell me more, Clare.
clare.malone: I think that neither side wants to lose face right now with their base. Trump obviously reverts to wall talk, but Schumer and Pelosi would be pilloried if they immediately conceded. So they are demonstrating that they now have a foothold of power in government.
It marks an obvious change in tone from the past couple of years. They’re on the offensive a bit more.
perry: Yeah, one unique aspect of this shutdown is that the Democrats now have a “don’t compromise wing,” too. In previous shutdowns, it was the GOP that had to deal with talk radio and Fox News telling them to fight. But now Democrats have groups like Indivisible that will attack Pelosi and Schumer pretty aggressively if they offer wall funding to Trump.
clare.malone: Everyone’s feisty right now.
sarahf: That’s what’s so interesting about this — to some extent, both parties want border security. Democrats were willing to pass $1.3 billion in funding, but because of Trump’s focus on the wall, it has taken on a life of its own that doesn’t leave much room for compromise.
I don’t see how this ends without one of the parties getting egg on their face.
perry: Yeah, if the wall is a monument to Trump or racism or both, as it’s becoming defined on the left, it’s difficult to see a situation where there’s support to give even $1 for it.
sarahf: What are some ways the shutdown impasse could end? Because it has to end relatively soon, right?
perry: I’m not sure it has to end quickly.
I do think that’s one advantage for Trump, in fact. It seems like he thrives on disruption. He doesn’t want to lose, and he views compromise as a sign of weakness. He also thinks federal workers are basically all Democrats, which is wrong. But the fact that he has said that gives you some sense of how Trump views those affected by the shutdown.
But Democrats are the party that tends to be more pro-government, and while I can’t prove this, I suspect that congressional Democrats are uncomfortable with shutdowns in general. So I don’t know how long they can sustain this shutdown posture.
clare.malone: If this shutdown continues, I’m curious about whether the plight of low-wage federal workers will become a real headline and perhaps a motivating facet of public opinion.
That might not happen, but for some people who have low-paying government jobs, this is a devastating few weeks.
nrakich: Apparently there has been a spike in TSA workers (who are about to miss a paycheck) calling in sick.
If there’s a perception that airport security is compromised, or if we start to see serious delays at airports because of understaffing, that could end this thing quick.
perry: How the shutdown could end: 1) Trump folds, and a bill passes with more border security money but no wall funding. 2) Trump declares a national emergency, which he uses for wall funding, and a government funding bill passes without any wall funding. 3) McConnell figures out some kind of compromise bill, it passes the Senate and both Pelosi and Trump accept. I’m assuming Nos. 2 and 3 are more likely than No. 1, but who knows?
clare.malone: Can I make some facile analysis?
I think Trump would want to declare a national emergency more than he’d want McConnell to figure out a compromise. It’s the option with more “boom” to it.
perry: That seems right to me and not facile at all.
clare.malone: Boom. Boom. (Shout-out to Nate Silver’s college band.)
Conservative judges do seem aware of preserving executive powers in real ways.
But I have no legal expertise to say whether an emergency declaration would be a bridge too far, even for the executive power people.
sarahf: To Perry’s point on how this government shutdown might end — I’m not sure how something like option No. 3, in which the parties reach a compromise, pans out. I don’t see a clear path for either party to negotiate, and I’m not sure how this will play out in the court of public opinion.
Up until this point, the American public has largely blamed Trump for the government shutdown, but I do wonder as it drags on how public opinion will shift.
nrakich: More Americans are coming to see the shutdown as a “very serious” problem, according to HuffPost polling.
But I still agree with what was said above: that the shutdown’s effect on public opinion will wear off eventually, as has happened with past shutdowns.
perry: I don’t think public opinion will shift at all. Most people will blame Trump, but that will be Democrats and independents. Republican voters overall will remain committed to the wall. I think the questions are: How long will Republicans in Congress sustain the strategy of shutting down the government over a border wall? And what strategies will they develop to end the shutdown that Trump will accept?
We’re facing the third government shutdown in less than a year this Friday thanks, in part, to a fight over immigration policy. President Trump wants $5 billion for a border wall — an amount that is unlikely to make it through the Senate. Back in January, a disagreement over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program caused a partial government shutdown.1 So it’s worth taking a step back and asking: Why is immigration such a stumbling block?
But over the past couple of decades — as the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. rose steeply and then began to decline — immigration policy has come to symbolize the two parties’ broader values and electoral coalitions. The battle over immigration policy is about way more than just immigration, in other words, in the same way that the tensions between the two parties on health policy reflect deeper fault lines. The politics of immigration today are notably more divided and partisan than they were 10 or 20 years ago, and there are a few reasons why.
First, there are the party coalitions. Compared to the mid-2000s, the Democratic Party of today includes fewer non-Hispanic white voters: 67 percent people who are or lean toward being Democrats were non-Hispanic whites in 2007, but that number had dropped to 59 percent in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty percent of self-identified Democrats are now nonwhite. Republicans too have grown more racially diverse, but only barely, and they are still overwhelmingly white: 88 percent in 2007, compared to 83 percent in 2017. About 12 percent of Democrats are Hispanic, roughly double the percentage of Republicans who are of Hispanic descent.
So the Democrats have a huge bloc of people in their party who have racial, ethnic and cultural ties to America’s most recent immigrants, who are largely Asian- and Latino-American. And while “minorities” and “people of color” are fraught terms that often ignore differences both between and within racial and ethnic groups, the Democrats are essentially now the home party for Americans who might feel that U.S. society treats them as “other.”
Secondly, while both parties have undergone ideological shifts, Democrats have shifted more dramatically. Pollsters ask a variety of questions to measure public opinion on immigration, but they all show the same thing: Democrats have become far more pro-immigration in recent years.
According to Pew, in 2006, 37 percent of Democrats3 said that legal immigration to the U.S. should be decreased, compared to 20 percent who said it should increase.4 Pew found a huge reversal in those numbers earlier this year: 40 percent of Democrats back higher immigration levels, compared to 16 percent who want them lowered. According to Gallup, 85 percent of Democrats now feel immigration is a “good thing” for America, compared to 69 percent who said the same in 2006. Republicans haven’t actually become more anti-immigration, according to Pew and Gallup. But, per Pew, there are more Republicans5 who want immigration decreased (33 percent) than who want it increased (22 percent).
As a result, the gap between the parties on questions about immigration has become a chasm:
And immigration is indicative of a broader shift: Democratic voters have grown more liberal on issues of race, gender and identity generally. That includes white Democrats.
The voters are not alone. Elites in each party have moved toward the ideological poles on immigration policy. Liberal-leaning activists and Democratic politicians argue that policies like the wall aren’t just bad or ineffective, they are immoral and racist. Trump and other conservatives have suggested that more immigration could both hurt the U.S. economy and lead to more crime.
Let me avoid making this a both-sides story: For the most part, Democrats are more aligned with overall public opinion on immigration. The majority of voters want undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children to be protected from deportation, and Democrats’ demand for that provision that led to last winter’s shutdown. Likewise, most voters don’t support a border wall, but Trump is driving toward a shutdown in pursuit of a wall, an idea that many congressional Republicans are fairly lukewarm about.
That said, America did elect a president (in 2016) and a Senate majority (in 2016 and 2018) who belong to the party that is generally less supportive of immigration, so either there is some appetite for a middle ground or immigration is not a deal-breaker issue for many Americans. Either way, it would be logical for the two sides to find a compromise. But the shifts the parties have undergone in the last 10 or so years make such a compromise hard to execute. Democratic leaders can’t easily sign on to any funding for a wall that their base thinks is a physical monument to racism, particularly since the top Democratic leaders are white but much of the party base is not. Trump can’t easily give up on the wall, since he basically campaigned on the idea that America needs a wall to remain a great nation.
So we’re already at two shutdowns involving immigration policy in the Trump era — and I would not rule out a few more.