Trump has had a range of worthy accomplishment – largely ignored by the liberal media. While Republicans in Congress can be held accountable for floundering when they should have been soaring, President Trump bears the responsibility for two rather bad decisions in recent months.
First is the declaration of a national emergency to gain money for enhanced border protection – including barriers at critical locations. That should have been a slam dunk for Trump, even with – or because of – the irrational opposition of Democrats under the open-border leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Democrats wanted the shut down because they believed – and correctly so – that it would not play well for the Republicans. If Trump was to get his $5.7 billion dollars for “the wall,” it was going to take a government shutdown – a long one. But … he was in the power position, not Pelosi & Co.
Based on my experience with major teacher strikes in Chicago and Detroit, I knew that public pressure would shift from Trump and the GOP on to the Democrats as the shutdown dragged on, and it became apparent that Trump would not cave – and the Senate Republicans would not override a veto of any Democrat legislation opening the government.
In fact, that shift in public and political sentiment had started. Several House Democrats were suggesting that Trump be given his money to end the shutdown. Out of work bureaucrats were starting to pressure Democrats to get them back to work sooner than later. It was only a matter of time – maybe a couple of weeks – before the Democrats opposition was about to collapse.
Trump’s first mistake was the short-term shutdown. If he believed that he was going to have a stronger position in the few weeks of negotiations, he was very mistaken and foolish. For most of the interim period, Democrats refused even to negotiate – making Trump look like a loser. And faced with another shutdown – which would have been the better option for Trump, he caved. He agreed to a bill with less funding for barriers than any previous Democrat offering. In terms of the wall, the loss for Trump was in the billions of dollars.
As a back-up strategy, Trump had always held open the opinion of declaring a national emergency and shifting funds from other areas in the budget. In previous commentaries, I advised against that option – not even as a last resort.
The problems were predictable. There would be choruses of criticism rising over any area in which he would re-appropriate funds. It was a situation in which reality was trumped by political imagery. One dollar from the Defense Department would be the end of our national security. One dollar from the drug program, and addicts would be dying in the streets by the millions. Yes, that is an exaggeration, but you get the point. It was a political fight Trump did not need and one he could not clearly win – or he clearly could not win. Take your pick.
He would get hammered with lawsuits, and he has. These will delay any barrier building based on the National Emergency Declaration for months and even years. Eventually, it will have to be settled by the Supreme Court. Trump could win over a majority of the nine justices, but that is not at all a certainty. The Declaration has generated a lot of opposition for conservatives.
One must assume that Trump assumed that the Republicans in the Senate would fall in line. Or sure, there might be one or two who will vote with Democrats on this issue. It was a misjudgment on Trump’s part. Perhaps he is not sufficiently bred in conservative philosophy to recognize the red flag he waved before the constitutionalists. Many Congressional conservatives who were willing to hang tough for the wall are not willing to let a President – any President for any reason – assume the powers of the purse that belongs to Congress – specifically the House.
It not only a separation of powers matter, but a number of Republicans appropriately expressed a politically pragmatic fear that a broadened definition of presidential power would be used, and further abused, by Democrats in the future. Trump is probably right that Democrats are likely to expand powers when given the opportunity regardless, but this would make it much easier – much more acceptable.
It will not be long until we discover whether there are enough Republican Senators willing to bolt from the President for the Constitution. If there are enough to override a veto – which appears unlikely — the Declaration is dead and all those court cases moot. And even if they hold up the Declaration, a victory for Trump will be only partial and long off. This is not one battle in which Trump should be tired of winning. He got a lot less than he would of before the shutdown.
The Hanoi Summit
Then there is the Kim Jong-un meeting. For the most part, Trump has handled the North Korean problem rather adroitly despite the shameless political criticism he gets from the #Never Trump Resistance Movement. He definitely made important progress in the first meeting. Just that fact that the United States and North Korea are talking rather than threatening is a huge achievement – an accomplishment several previous administrations failed to achieve.
He got the American prisoners freed and the remains of American MIAs returned. While there are concerns about North Korea’s current nuclear operations, there are no more missiles flying over Japan or toward Guam.
Based on preliminary and lower level negotiations – and yes, Trump does not just wing it – there was a pretty good indication that nothing of substance was going to be achieved even before Air Force One headed to Vietnam. There was some anticipation that Trump had a couple of high cards up his sleeve or a rabbit to be pulled from the diplomatic hat. But that did not happen.
Secretary Mike Pompeo indicated that some progress had been made, but never really detailed what it might have been.
Trump often talks about “walking away” from a bad deal. He did that with Pelosi and Schumer over the wall. It is possible – maybe even likely – that Trump knew he would have to walk away from the talks. However, he got to that point, it was the right thing to do. It even got him a couple of “atta boys” from Schumer.
Trump’s claim that everything is peachy between him and Kim defies what happened in Hanoi. It has given more credibility to Trump critics who argue that Kim has no intention of making North Korea a nuclear-free zone.
Trump also played into his critics by his continued praise of Kim and his acceptance of Kim’s dubious assurances that the supreme leader did not know anything about the torture of Otto Warmbier. That got him a politically damaging rebuke for Warmbier’s parents. It was an unnecessary forced error – and not the first.
Trump did not look strong in the aborted summit, but he did not look weak either – just unsuccessful. But that is bad enough.
The game is by far not over, but the National Emergency Declaration and the Kim Summit were two fumbles.
So, there ‘tis.