Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement two weeks ago that he will retire and Scott Pruitt’s resignation last week as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency has greatly increased the chances of a federal government shutdown this fall.
We were already barreling toward yet another government shutdown before the events of the last few weeks transpired to make it even more likely. As I’ve been posting for months (look here and here, for example), the very limited congressional action so far this year on the fiscal 2019 appropriations had already made it likely that Congress would again have to pass and the president sign a single funding bill — a continuing resolution — to keep the federal government open when the fiscal year began on October 1.
Trump’s inflexibility on the wall will likely get even worse this fall if he continues to need immigration-related issues to inflame his base.
But Congress adopting that CR was always going to be the relatively easy part. The more difficult would be getting President Trump to sign the bill. Trump has been insisting he won’t do it unless the House and Senate appropriate $25 billion for the wall he wants built between the United States and Mexico.
Over the past two years, the Republican-controlled Congress has refused to fund Trump’s wall multiple times and each time Trump has backed down.
At this point, however, Trump appears to be more adamant about carrying through on his veto threat, and Trump’s inflexibility on the wall will likely get even worse this fall if he continues to need immigration-related issues to inflame his base.
Congress was already facing an extreme time crunch on appropriations. Even with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) announcement that he was going to cancel the August recess this year, the Senate only had a very limited number of legislative days left before October 1.
But McConnell’s decision to cancel the August recess was made long before there was a need for the Senate to confirm a new Supreme Court justice and a new administrator for the Environmental Protection Administration. At that point, McConnell just wanted the Senate to deal with other pending (especially judicial) nominations and…wait for it…fiscal 2019 appropriations.
Kennedy/Pruitt totally changes this equation. Although approving a new EPA administrator can be delayed until the all-but-certain lame duck session of Congress in November and December, confirming the Supreme Court nominee before the election is now Trump’s and McConnell’s highest legislative priority.
That pushes the fiscal 2019 appropriations down to no better than third with the Kennedy replacement and other nominations both higher in the pecking order. They could even be fourth if the new EPA administrator confirmation is also considered a must-be-done-before-the-election activity.
All of this will make it much less likely that any of the individual 2019 appropriations will be adopted by the start of the fiscal year and, therefore, that a CR will be needed to keep the government open.
And that will play directly into Trump’s hands by making his weapon of choice — a veto of a CR — more powerful.
Had Congress made the 2019 appropriations a priority before Kennedy/Pruitt, it would have already reduced the value of the Trump veto threat.
But because the GOP House and Senate leadership didn’t do that, the Kennedy retirement and Pruitt resignation means that a CR and the chance of a Trump veto over funding for the wall is much more likely.
That makes the chances of a shutdown this fall at least 50 percent now, and likely to go up even further in the days ahead.
Coming This Thursday
Yes, Trump Absolutely Will Shut Down This Government This Fall