The star of ‘Presidential Apprentice’ is trying to strong-arm Democrats into paying for the wall he wants to build on the US-Mexico border.
Congress is negotiating a bill to keep the federal government functioning after April 28th. But White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said yesterday that the Trump administration will threaten American families to coerce Democrats into funding wall construction, cutting the EPA budget, and so forth.
Mulvaney told the Institute of International Finance that the White House may withhold the subsidies that make health insurance affordable for millions of Americans — a move that would actually violate federal law — unless Democrats agree to Trump’s demands. From the Washington Post:
Mulvaney stopped short of saying that the White House would refuse to sign a spending agreement that does not include those priorities, but he made clear that he expects Democrats to reopen talks. Democrats saw Mulvaney’s comments as evidence that the White House is meddling to undermine what they described as successful, bipartisan talks.
[…] “If they tell us to pound sand, I think that’s probably a disappointing indicator of where the next four years is going to go,” Mulvaney said. “If they tell us, however, that they recognize that President Trump won an election, and he should get some of his priorities funded for that reason, elections have consequences, as folks who win always like to say.”
Mulvaney made no effort to conceal the naked political posturing involved. “We know there are a lot of people on the Hill, especially in the Democratic Party, who don’t like the wall, but they lost the election,” he said. “And the president should, I think, at least have the opportunity to fund one of his highest priorities in the first funding bill under his administration.”
This is “consistent with Trump’s method of operation,” Martin Longman points out. “Rather than honor a contract, he’ll refuse to pay it until threatened with legal action. Then he’ll countersue and offer a pittance of what he owes as a reasonable compromise.”
But the Trump administration has less leverage than they seem to think. For one thing, courts frown on the executive branch unilaterally deciding to flout laws. Many Republicans don’t want to pay for a border wall, either, so it’s not clear that Trump could line up enough Democratic senators to get what he wants even if he could force concessions out of Democrats.
Worse, Democrats are greatly encouraged by the results of the first congressional elections of the Trump era, such as Jon Ossoff’s unexpectedly-strong performance in Georgia this week. They are not likely to be cowed by these threats. Instead, they will likely make political hay out of them.
If Trump imagines that he can play chicken with Congress, force a government shutdown, and then shift all the blame onto Democrats, he is in for a rude awakening. Despite the best efforts of Republicans, the public and press never blamed President Obama for their budget brinkmanship; that won’t be true for Donald Trump if he’s taking hostages and making demands.
Whatever happens now, he will own it.
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