Two weeks ago, President Trump agreed to reopen the U.S. government without any money for a wall on the border with Mexico. For thirty-five days, the President had refused to sign any budget from Congress that didn’t include funding for the wall, leaving 800,000 government employees without five weeks of pay. However, the President blinked first and agreed to re-open the government for three weeks. Democrats are claiming victory: Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives has forced the President’s hand. But how exactly did we end up here, how did Pelosi manage it, and where do we go from here?
The whole saga began with the government running out of money in December 2018, forcing unfunded departments to close. In order for them to re-open, Congress had to pass a budget, but the President refused to sign any budget without funding for the border wall. Democrats have flatly refused to allow any budget with funding for the border wall to pass through the House of Representatives, and they have remained united in this promise. The conflict escalated a week ago when Speaker Pelosi refused to allow President Trump to host the yearly State of the Union address in Congress, citing security concerns as a result of the shutdown. The address has historically been delivered in Congress, so for Trump to have to deliver the speech somewhere else would have been an incredible blemish on his legacy.
President Trump countered Pelosi cancelling the State of the Union address by cancelling Pelosi’s military flight to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan. By this point (day 28 of the shutdown) it had become clear that the shutdown was not about the budget or the government workers who were not being paid for their work. It was about two political reputations, one of which had to give in eventually. The only difference between Pelosi and Trump is that Pelosi had been in this position before. As an experienced politician, Pelosi knows how to deal with times of difficulty, having been Speaker of the House once before from 2007 – 2011, as well as House Minority Leader from 2011 until she regained the Speaker’s gavel in January 2019.
Ultimately, Pelosi’s political experience counted in her favour. She has the knowledge and capability to judge tough situations and react accordingly. It is easy to forget that Donald Trump is the only President to have no previous military or government experience before ascending to the Oval Office. Trump has so far proven that he can govern through intimidation and staunch reliance on his voter base, who have continued to support the President throughout his tenure. However, the President’s approval ratings have since rapidly declined through the government shutdown, having now reached 39% according to the polling organisation FiveThirtyEight.
So where do we go now the shutdown is temporarily over? Well, the budget that the President has signed only keeps the government open for three weeks. It is now time for the President and Congress to come together and find common ground on the issue of border security. Both sides have played a part in keeping the government shut down for five weeks. Now, they should come together to pass a full budget in order to make sure something as catastrophic as a five-week shutdown does not happen again. Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party will consider this a political victory – they have, after all, forced the President to back down. However, neither side can claim a total victory, and nor should this be seen as a way to ‘win’ against the opposition. But Trump now knows what he is dealing with; Nancy Pelosi is a political force which he cannot afford to underestimate in the future.