In Bob Woodward’s book on the Donald Trump presidency, he refers to a pre-election interview in which the future Republican leader explained that “Real power is…fear.”
Trump is the 45th president of the United States, a billionaire and the wealthiest man to ever accept the responsibility for directing the government of one of the most powerful nations on earth. At the end of last week, he was threatening a government shutdown to force support for a stop-gap spending bill that includes US$5.7 billion for a Mexico border wall.
On Wednesday, in the face of opposition to the package, the US Senate passed a short-term spending bill that dropped the allocation for the border wall and would have kept the US government running until February 8, but the president rejected the amended bill after getting strong negative feedback.
Trump declared in an Oval Office meeting with House leaders, that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”
Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was urged by the president to go for the “nuclear option,” a rare and risky change of the rules of governance to allow the bill to pass with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes that are required to advance legislation.
On Friday night, Congress adjourned after recalling dozens of representatives, unable to reach any resolution of the issue and the US faced at least a partial shutdown of government services.
Shutdowns of the US government have become an increasingly frequent way of dealing with the deep-seated governance differences in the US Congress.
This is the third federal government shutdown in 2018, matching the experience in 2017, which ran for weeks in October and December of that year. Shutdowns in 2018 have been briefer. On January 20, a two-day shutdown was followed by one that ran for just nine hours on February 9.
Branches of the federal government have been making plans for the current shutdown, which may include forced leave of absence for hundreds of thousands of federal workers.
It’s a crisis in governance that’s hardly unknown in US history, but the sharp difference in the perspectives between the current government, the Democratic party and even moderate Republicans has created a growing ferment.
The shutdown is another troubling decision by President Trump in recent weeks, following a puzzling defence of the Saudi Arabian crown prince in the murder of a journalist and a sudden decision to pull US troops out of Syria that’s causing concern on both sides of the US House and Senate.
President Trump, who has gone his own way into the Oval Office, faces a considerable challenge in forging overdue alliances and accommodations to achieve his goals and to meet expectations on both sides of Congress.