As the longest government shutdown in American history lurches toward its fifth week, a grim but growing consensus has begun to emerge on Capitol Hill: There may be no way out of this mess until something disastrous happens.
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The basic theory—explained to me between weary sighs and defeated shrugs—goes like this: Washington is at an impasse that looks increasingly unbreakable. President Donald Trump is dug in; so is Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Democrats have public opinion on their side, but the president is focused on his conservative base. For a deal to shake loose in this environment, it may require a failure of government so dramatic, so shocking, as to galvanize public outrage and force the two parties back to the negotiating table.
Lord, I hate the media’s Both-Siderism fetish, especially when it minimizes the fact that the Democratic position is supported by the majority of Americans, while Trump and Republicans are supported by a shrinking minority of dead-enders.
What cavalcade of horrors should we expect before the Republican Party decides to stop blocking funding bills?
In these interviews, I heard an array of macabre hypotheticals—from airplane crashes to food-safety scares, TSA strikes to terrorist incidents. But the one theme that ran through every conversation was a sense that the current political dynamics won’t change until voters get a lot angrier.
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Others warned of potential flash points in America’s airports, where TSA agents and air-traffic controllers have already been working without pay for weeks. According to the Washington Post reporter Robert Costa, some Republican lawmakers close to the White House have privately concluded that the shutdown won’t end until TSA employees stay home and Americans “get furious about their flights.”
On a similar—if darker—note, I spoke to one congressional staffer who wondered aloud whether it might take a stressed-out air-traffic controller causing a plane crash to bring an end to the shutdown. And several aides worried that some kind of terrorist incident would end up serving as the catalyst to get the government up and running again.
At least both sides seem to be concerned about the well-being of everyday people, for once . . .
One senior Republican Senate staffer told me he could envision the shutdown lasting until March, when federal funding dries up for food stamps—a crisis that would be hard for Washington to ignore. “Not only are there going to be a lot of hungry families,” he said, “but there are going to be a lot of Walmarts and Safeways and Krogers that are missing revenue.”
He brings up a good point—will no one think of the Walmarts?! Republicans, bruh . . .
Well, at least there’s some consensus around the role low-quality presidential leadership is having on this crisis:
If one thing unites most Republicans and Democrats on the Hill these days, it’s that there is little use in trying to negotiate in good faith with the Trump White House. The president is simply too volatile, too prone to change his mind in a fit of pique, too apt to reverse course after watching Fox News. It was Trump, after all, who abruptly backed out of an agreed-upon budget deal last month after right-wing media figures such as Ann Coulter started clamoring for border-wall funding.
But will Republicans vote against him in 2020? I doubt it. They’re a generally horrible bunch, regardless of their current opinion of Trump.