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No bigger reason for shutdown than Trump

The United States Government is shutting down for the first time in more than four years, and Donald Trump has spent days trying to lay the blame on the Democrats.

On Friday he tweeted: “Not looking good for our great military or safety & security on the very dangerous southern border. Dems want a shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the tax cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy.

But there is a strong case to be made that it is the President's actions — and lack thereof — that caused, or at least greatly exacerbated, the shutdown. In other words, Trump shares a sizeable chunk of the blame.

Here's why:

1, All of this is happening on his watch

This is the first shutdown with one party controlling all of Washington. Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, so how could Trump not get some of the blame for a shutdown? He is, ostensibly, in control of his party.

A politically potent symbol to drive home that point: the Government shut down on the first anniversary of his presidency.

When you layer on what Trump has said about shutdowns, it is fair to wonder if he actually wants one, or at least is OK with one if it happens. My colleagues reported last November that he told confidants a shutdown could be good for him politically; a chance to flex his hardline muscles on immigration. He has also tweeted stuff such as this: “Either elect more Republican senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51 per cent. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown' in September to fix mess!”

The President's aides said on Friday that Trump was instrumental in bringing conservative House Republicans on board with the spending Bill, and that he was “actively working “ to prevent a shutdown.

He invited Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, the Democrat from New York, to the White House on Friday to talk about a deal. Schumer said he “even put a border wall on the table”, suggesting Trump could get money for the US-Mexico border wall in exchange for keeping the Government open. But Schumer said on Saturday that Trump rejected that deal, the second bipartisan immigration deal in a week that he has rejected.

2, No one in Washington seems to know what he wants

So, wait, if the President said in private he would be OK with a shutdown, but in public decried one, what did he actually want?

That is a mystery to even his allies in Congress. This week, Trump cast doubt on whether he would sign a short-term spending Bill to keep the Government's lights on for another month, hours after his spokeswoman said he would. Hours before a precarious vote in the House of Representatives to avoid such a scenario, Trump pulled the rug out from under GOP leaders, taking away their only leverage to get Democrats on board: funding the Children's Health Insurance Programme.

Trump also pushed back on his chief of staff's statements by suggesting he had not backed off the notion of a border wall covering most of the 2,000 miles along the US-Mexico border.

He tweeted: “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.” Parts will be, of necessity, see-through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.

3, He torpedoed a deal on immigration right when it mattered most Trump has also been extraordinarily inconsistent on what he wants on an issue that is impossible to separate from this shutdown: preventing the deportation of immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, known as “dreamers”.

He ended the Obama-era dreamer protections last September, tossing it to Congress to fix. Then he switched his position several times on whether he wanted Congress to find a permanent solution and/or what he wanted in exchange for it. (A border wall? Would a fence be OK? Ending the visa lottery programme?)

Senators came up with a bipartisan deal they thought he could support. It included some money for a barrier on the border. In phone calls earlier in the day, these senators thought he was on board.

When they went to the White House to present the deal, senator Richard Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, told The New York Times that he found Trump almost automatically opposed to any deal.

Then the President reportedly asked why the deal had to let in people from “s**thole countries” such as Haiti, El Salvador and African nations, and then you-know-what really hit the fan.

4, “S**thole countries”

With two words, Trump caused an international stir and made it much more difficult for Democrats to negotiate with the President on even the shortest of spending deals. Their base was already frustrated that Democrats did not extract dreamer protections in a December spending deal.

Suddenly, a vote even on a short-term spending Bill without protections for young undocumented immigrants could be interpreted by liberals as a capitulation to Trump.

This is not to say Trump is the only one who will get blamed for this shutdown. Republicans have spent the past few days casting Democrats as the villains. They are willing to vote against a spending Bill over an unrelated issue — immigration.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted: “The choice to fund the Government by Friday is simple. 1) pass a non-controversial, bipartisan Bill to keep the Government open or 2) Democrats manufacture a crisis & force a government shutdown over an unrelated issue that we have until at least March to resolve.

Josh Holmes, a former top aide to McConnell, points to recent history to make the case that Democrats are the ones to blame: in 2013, conservative Republicans refused to vote for a spending Bill that did not defund Obamacare. The Government shut down for 16 days and polls showed a majority of Americans blamed Republicans.

“You take the party label off and watch how that's played out,” Holmes said. “It's never been good for the party that's blocking the funding for reasons irrelevant to the funding.”

For right now, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed the opposite. On the eve of this shutdown, Americans say they'll blame Republicans and Trump over Democrats. The reasons Trump is to blame are pretty clear.

Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman DC bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan

Harsh indictment: Donald Trump is facing a government shutdown despite the Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress. The pushback is seen as an attack against the man himself, if not his policies (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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Published January 22, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated January 21, 2018 at 11:05 pm)

No bigger reason for shutdown than Trump

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