No, it’s not oversight hearings into…well…anything.
And it’s certainly not a subpoena, legislation to protect the Mueller investigation or the rejection of his Supreme Court nominee.
But the GOP congressional leadership’s decision last week not to give Donald Trump the $5 billion he wants for a wall between the United States and Mexico before the election and then to make it much harder for him to veto the legislation that codifies that decision was the closest House and Senate Republicans have come since Trump was elected to publicly giving him their collective middle finger.
First, Congress decided to combine several of the fiscal 2019 appropriations together both to deal with the very limited amount of time left before the government shuts down on October 1 and to make it more likely that the wide swath of programs funded in these small omnibus appropriations (hence the name “minibus”) would attract enough votes to pass the House and Senate.
This was an act of desperation and defiance by the Republican leadership.
Second, the GOP leadership then decided to attach the continuing resolution — the bill that will be needed to keep open the agencies and departments not included in either of the two minibuses — to the combined Defense-Health and Human Services appropriation. Given that the White House staff (but not Trump himself) has indicated that the president will sign that bill, the thinking was that this will reduce or even eliminate the chances of government shutdown before the election.
This was an act of desperation and defiance by the Republican congressional leadership. Knowing that they weren’t going to approve the billions of dollars Trump has been insisting on for his wall and that they would face his wrath when they didn’t, the GOP Congress made it significantly more painful for the president to react negatively when he didn’t get what he was demanding.
This has been coming for months given that the congressional Republicans’ political needs differ so sharply from Trump’s heading into the mid-term elections.
With polls showing the Republican control of the House and Senate increasingly at risk, a government shutdown is the last thing the GOP leadership wants five weeks before Election Day and just as early voting gets underway in many states.
Trump, on the other hand, may see a shutdown over his wall as the best way to raise the reddest of red meat issues — immigration — with his base.
And Trump’s need to energize his base took on increased importance last week with Paul Manafort’s plea deal, the release of Bob Woodward’s book and the continuing aftermath of the New York Times anonymous op-ed.
So far, Trump has been anything but consistent about a shutdown.
Trump may see a government shutdown as the most dramatic thing available to him right now to divert attention. Other very dramatic diversions, such as firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, all seem unlikely before the election.
He may also see it as part of his continuing anti-impeachment strategy to energize the voters he will need to keep Congress from moving forward.
What’s most interesting and potentially most politically significant about this are that the Republicans in Congress (1) decided to devise an appropriations strategy that unambiguously helps themselves rather than Trump, (2) didn’t accommodate the White House in even some small way and (3) challenged Trump so openly.
In addition, the congressional leadership did this not knowing whether it would work. As I noted in this post, So far, Trump has been anything but consistent about a shutdown and there’s no way to guarantee he will be more rational between now and October 1 than he has been so far.
Indeed, given Manafort et al., it may be safer to assume that he won’t be.
In other words, Trump could easily decide to reply to the congressional GOP’s middle finger by giving it right back to them.
Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy.