THE BIG NEWS of the past week was the government’s inexorable movement towards its shutting down at midnight Saturday morning. A little backstory is important to understand why this happened and why it matters.
In early September Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Obama had instituted to protect approximately 800,000 immigrants who had arrived illegally in the United States as children. Trump’s action meant that in early March protections for the “Dreamers” would end. As he repealed their protection, he called on Congress to act.
Since that time, Trump has been all over the map on the subject of Dreamers, at times claiming that he loves them and wants them to stay, at others calling them “illegal immigrants” and linking them with violent crime. Democrats have sought a deal to permanently protect the Dreamers, while Republicans have insisted that no action was needed; everyone had until March to do something.
The result was that Trump and the Republicans had taken the Dreamers hostage, despite the fact that 86% of Americans say they want a solution that will allow the Dreamers to stay in what has been their home since they were tiny.
Another layer of the story began at the end of September when the Republican Congress ignored the expiration of the Childrens’ Health Insurance Program, a bipartisan program which insures 9 million American children. Again, Republicans claimed that there was still time to renew funding, as most states had sufficient funds to keep the program running for a few more months (it is now running out). Democrats continued to push to have the program renewed, but the Republicans wouldn’t bring it up for a vote. Another hostage had been taken. Please note that both programs being held hostage had to do with the fate of children.
The Republicans then ignored both DACA and CHIP and concentrated instead on their tax scam that will transfer massive sums from working Americans to the super-rich, while cratering the deficit. Because Republicans control both Houses of Congress, they were able to deny Democrats even the possibility of bringing up either program for a vote, despite the fact that both might well have garnered sufficient bipartisan support to be passed.
Meanwhile, the government was running up to the deadline to pass funding for the coming year. Because of the frantic Republican tax effort, they hadn’t done the work to plan for keeping the government funded and need to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) in late December to extend funding for another month, essentially kicking the can down the road. Democrats considered withholding support at that time unless DACA and CHIP were addressed, but not enough Democrat Senators were willing to join in.
That brings us to January. At the beginning of the month news leaked of Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, an inside look at a dysfunctional White House and a President who lacked virtually any ability to understand issues or make decisions about them. Trump, furious, tweeted that he was a “stable genius” and the following week kept the cameras rolling on a DACA meeting at the White House to prove it.
Instead, during the meeting he first completely misunderstood Senator Feinstein’s proposal to pass a clean DREAM Act and work on a comprehensive immigration package afterwards, initially agreeing with her and needing to be corrected by Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Later in the meeting he said that he would sign anything that the two sides negotiated.
Then last week, with a deal largely worked out between the two sides, giving Trump concessions on border control and immigration levels of family members in exchange for protection for the Dreamers, Trump blew up, furious and ranting about not wanting immigrants from “shithole countries like Haiti, San Salvador and the African countries”, instead asking why we couldn’t have immigrants from Norway.
Hardliners had apparently gotten Trump’s ear and tapped his underlying racism, scuttling any deal. Since that time, Democrats have understandably come to believe that the other side isn’t negotiating either fairly or rationally. Trump neither understands the issues at hand nor has any consistency at all.
That brings us to the shutdown. Sixty votes are needed to pass a Continuing Resolution, meaning that the Republicans needed Democrat votes. They attempted to use the CHIP funding as a sweetener but refused to work on a solution to DACA, other than asking for a capitulation to their most hardline demands – build the wall, etc. They were effectively saying, “Pass the CR or the kids will get it” and then trying to twist the story to make it look as if the Democrats didn’t care about children. This is vile.
Their behavior had become so intransigent and frankly awful that in the Senate only five Democrats voted for the CR and the same number of Republicans withheld their votes, joining the Democratic minority. The government shut down. For now, it appears to be a standoff, with both sides attentive to how this plays out with the public.
From our perspective, Democrats have been making good faith efforts to solve the issue at hand, while the Republicans have not, instead behaving irresponsibly despite the fact that they control the government. It is clear where the blame lies: with the Republicans and Trump. Watch for them in the coming days to lie endlessly about this, seeking instead to demonize the Dreamers. When you read or hear those lies, tell the truth instead.
THE SHUTDOWN COINCIDED exactly with the anniversary of Trump’s first disastrous year in office, which means that it also coincided with the Second Annual Women’s March, which took place on Saturday in hundreds of cities across the country and in other cities around the world (sign in Rome: “I came for the carbonara and stayed for the resistance”). Millions turned out, making the Marches appear as strong, if not more so, than the first Marches last year, answering the question, “Can the momentum be sustained?”. YES. It must be.
What we’ve seen over the past week, as over the last year, is that we can’t work with the Republicans because they won’t work with us. Our work, this week and going forward, needs to be to oppose them fiercely (Take Action) by keeping out Members of Congress strong and courageous and to work with red sister districts in California and around the country to drive Republicans from office (Act to Win) in November.
Given the Republicans’ continuing descent into authoritarianism, these next elections may be the last chance we get to rescue our country. Don’t wait – carry the momentum forward and take action this week!
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org.
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook.
Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news.
To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, here’s a summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.