Playing by His Own Rules, Trump Flips the Shutdown Script

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Playing by His Own Rules, Trump Flips the Shutdown Script

“I don’t mind owning that issue,” he said of a shutdown.

Politicians with more experience in government shutdowns aren’t so sure that is a good idea. Both parties have engaged in such brinkmanship over the years and paid a political price. In the end, a sudden halt in government services or the closing of national parks feeds the public perception of a dysfunctional Washington, a place in which politicians are unwilling to compromise and find solutions — but are willing to let their constituents suffer the consequences.

And while the border wall is a significant symbolic issue, the dollars at stake in this fight are not huge — basically a difference of under $4 billion. That is the only issue holding up a major package of government spending that has deep bipartisan support.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, would prefer not to go there. He has repeatedly vowed to avoid shutdowns at all costs to try to project a Republican image of government competency.

“One thing I think is pretty clear no matter who precipitates the government shutdown: The American people don’t like it and I hope that will be avoided,” he said Tuesday.

Republicans have for years tried to shed their mantle as the shutdown party after engaging in budget clashes during the Clinton and Obama administrations, which led to government agencies being closed for varying periods of time as the two parties fought it out. The Newt Gingrich-led Republicans took most of the blame in the mid-1990s after President Bill Clinton vetoed the spending plan passed by the Republican Congress over Medicare cuts.

Republicans took it on the chin again in 2013 when the government shut down for 16 days after Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama refused Republican demands to end funding for his new health care law. They were probably spared the worst of the political fallout by the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act just a few weeks later.

At the beginning of this year, it was the turn of Senate Democrats, who briefly provoked a shutdown over the refusal by Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans to protect the special program for undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children. Democrats quickly backtracked, realizing that they were losing politically, and the shutdown extended only over a weekend. Mr. Trump said Tuesday that Democrats got “killed” for that maneuvering.

Such experiences have made both parties leery of delving into shutdown territory. Time still remains to work out some sort of deal. But if no accommodation can be reached, parts of the government might be closing for the holidays. Democrats believe it was Mr. Trump, with his fervent shutdown embrace, who presented them a gift.

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