Tom Rich, Editor-in-Chief
Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s discussions of news and events. This week gave us all a little whiplash as President Trump reached an agreement with Congressional Democrats to extend the debt ceiling until December, rejecting an 18 month proposal by Congressional Republicans. The President also suggested that he was willing to work with the Democrats to permanently remove the debt ceiling. Our question today is twofold: first, is this action in and of itself a good thing, and second, is it smart politics for the Democrats to be working with President Trump, who their base reviles?
Dave Spitzley, Contributing Writer
While I’ll have more to say on the second point, any successful avoidance of a debt crisis is a good thing. As I wrote in our Lamppost article on the Debt Limit, this whole situation is self-inflicted by Congress, and for over a decade over the 80s they just applied a rule that all legislation automatically authorized whatever debt the apportioned funding required. We’re basically in a Tarantino-esque situation now where either party can put us over the cliff if they get edgy.
If we hit the debt limit without raising it, we will eventually have to default on the bonds the Treasury issues to support the national debt, which would be both unconstitutional and economically catastrophic not just for us but the rest of the world. This is black magic, not to be touched.
Tl;dr debt limit fixes are good, even short ones.
Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor
I think the second question is important. Conceptually, we _want_ congress to work and compromise with the president. What has been happening for the last 8 years is utterly awful, and completely detrimental to this country. There are things we need to get done, and this country needs to function. As long as we don’t compromise our values, I think working with the president is fine. This is difficult because the President has no grasp on policy, but obviously can be done.
Further, this was the president taking the Democrats’ opening gambit. The Dems were expecting negotiations (They want 18 months (unacceptably coincidentally just after the elections) we want sooner, lets compromise at 6. Instead Trump just said “Sure, 3 sounds good!”). Also, This is not the same as Cruz’s petty awful idiocy. The republicans are in control of the legislative branch. If they want Pelosi’s help, they should bend a little in Pelosi’s direction. Plus, Trump came out and _also_ claimed to want to work with Dems to eliminate the debt ceiling altogether. Should we just not do that because Trump? (edited)
As for the the bill itself, we get a first tranche of Harvey Aid (there _will_ be more, and also Irma aid when that comes. Hopefully not too much needed) and also the government and the world economy continue to function. We get to put the Republicans on record that government is a good thing. Now, we have a nasty fight in 3 months, but this at least gives us some time, because we have very little until the end of september, and we still have to reauthorize the FAA, reauthorize SCHIP, and a couple of other things that are extremely important. We have no _time_ for that stuff right now
Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor
Dave brought up Tarantino. In Reservoir Dogs, spoiler alert, everybody wants the diamonds (policy) and if they delay too long the cops will show up (debt default) which is a loss for all of them. But they’re too busy arguing over who is or isn’t a rat to trust each other and get the job done like professionals. If instead of a tragic Mexican standoff Joe had just said, “Here, you have the diamonds,” it would have been an amicable exchange of priorities and nobody would have been shot or arrested. More importantly, nobody would have blamed Mr. White for taking that deal, because it’s a better outcome for everybody.
Trump giving in to Democrats on the debt ceiling is very different from the Democrats giving into Trump. When you walk away from the devil with 100% of what you wanted and 0% of what he wanted, you’re doing pretty good. And I don’t think many Dems are going to blame Congressional leadership for coming home with a golden fiddle and a story to tell.
I agree one hundred percent. This wasn’t political cooperation, this was the evil troll eating the plague of locusts before they hit town: unpredictable, desirable, but out of the hands of the peasants, and there’s still a troll running around
“The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. No more, no less.”
You guys are masterful metaphoriographers.
My concern is what comes next. There is a lot of talk about “Trump working with the Democrats”, and I think they should be bolting the doors. They can throw him any policies they want out the window and see if he takes them, but actually letting him in the parlor is going to stink up the place with ogre poop, and even worse, they may get used to it.
I don’t think Pelosi is just going to start giving Trump whatever the hell he wants. By all reports everyone in that meeting was completely stunned at Trump’s decision
Working with Trump entails working with him, and that creates both an appearance of an acceptance of his horrifying behavior and positions, and may actually breed it.
I mean, I would argue the devil metaphor is more apt than the locust metaphor. Schumer and Pelosi basically rolled Trump without even expecting to. That may lead them to try this path again–bluffing him from a position of power, or even attempting to take advantage of his distaste for long meetings–but it’s not going to lead them to think Trump is their buddy.
It may lead them to start treating him as the embarrassing but rich uncle, though…
Senator Durbin was interviewed on Pod Save America on Thursday and they asked him basically in light of Trump’s newfound willingness to deal with Democrats, would he trade the wall for the Dream Act (Durbin’s hobbyhorse for many years)? And Durbin said (I paraphrase), “I’m not giving him the wall, I’m not giving him sanctuary cities, I’m not even giving him DAPA, but heck, if he wants some kind of token border security, sure, I’ll sit down at the table.” Democrats have the basewind behind them helping them stand strong for their values and very much against Trump’s values. So long as they don’t make actual policy concessions I don’t think they’re going to fall into thinking they can trust him or that he’s their buddy, and I don’t think the public will make that mistake either.
To informed lefties, what happened this week was that Trump was a moron and we won some points off his dumb ass. To the uninformed middle, Dem leadership looks like it’s embracing bipartisanship to get stuff done, unlike those ‘Pubs in Disarray. To informed righties, Paul Ryan is a chump. From no perspective do Schumer and Pelosi come off this looking bad.
I agree with that, Josh. The Dems have their principles, and they aren’t suddenly going to compromise them because Trump decided this once to go with them. They know Trump is capricious, they have to work with the man. Rending our clothes because something happened, which is a shock at this point, makes us seem like we’re the same “Grab defeat from the jaws of victory!” dems we have been for a long time. Can we just can it until we actually screw something up, please?
So let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Schumer and Pelosi don’t start trusting Trump at this point, and only work with him when they can get stuff they want for either no concessions at all, or fairly minor stuff. They play smart politics with it. Given the overall situation, how likely do you think working with Trump is to put him in a stronger bargaining position? To put it another way, is just working with him, in and of itself, likely to give him some chips he can use down the line to get something awful done?
So the interesting thing about this question is that it assumes Trump has actual policy goals. In other words, a stronger position to _what_? Trump stands for nothing except personal aggrandizement, personally escaping justice, and haphazard white supremacy. He can achieve the first one by sometimes swapping sides to the Democrats, as indicated by the positive media coverage surrounding this deal (which I think is great–after months of hitting him with the rolled up newspaper, let’s, uh, stroke him with a newspaper? this metaphor got away from me. The point is, positive reinforcement when he does good things may influence his behavior). But Dems aren’t going to let him skate on impeachment or seriously hurt minorities with their blessing. At most this sort of action, assuming Trump repeats it sometimes, weakens and destabilizes the power of Congressional Republicans without actually strengthening Trump in any significant way other than in his weird, personal insult power plays against his own party’s leadership.
I think a) working with the Democrats hurts Trump, as it pisses off his core supporters, and his reluctant supporters are unlikely to come back due to him having made clear he’s the guy they hoped he wasn’t during the campaign, b) it hurts the Congressional GOP, because they continue to look ineffective in advancing their party’s priorities, and c) it may be good or bad for the Dems, depending on whether the narrative continues to be they’re playing Trump to pass GOP-opposed legislation, or if it shifts to them partnering with America’s first foray into strongman governance. I think the activist community that helps mobilize voters for off-year elections will slide towards that narrative really quickly if the Dems aren’t exceptionally disciplined in their play for effectiveness.
Well, the media is with Trump on this one. Which means that Trump will keep trying this, because praise from the networks is what he lives for. So that’s a good side effect of this. Further, Ryan is an idiot, and as long as he thinks he can get Tax Reform, he will stick through Trump no matter the bumble. (Ironically, this means that Trump’s position will be weaker after he passes Tax Reform). He just completely screwed over McConnell and Ryan, however. Who, remember, are in charge of the House and Senate, and are also ostensibly in his party. He didn’t gain any cachet with this, and in fact made them look like fools. His power is with the Republicans, they still control the House and Senate, and he just made them weaker.
Of course, Trump is going to need McConnell and Ryan’s almost unwavering support once Mueller really gets going, so it’s not like his position is …. unimpeachable(sorry).
Trump will go back to trying to shout and bully his way through to get what he thinks he wants, though. Trump isn’t changing. And Remember, Trump doesn’t really care about policy; whatever gets him the most praise is what he wants. I think this is most likely to shape his behavior vis a vis McConnell and Ryan are remarkably unpopular for party leaders, so Trump may try something ‘bipartisan’ like this again. But there was no long term power consideration here. The President needs the Legislative Branch to pass the laws, and the President just farted in his own party’s legislative caucus’ general direction.
Long story short (too late), this did make Trump stronger, but at the expense of Congressional and Senate Republicans. So in the long run it actually probably weakened him, but Trump doesn’t understand that sort of legislative maneuvering and power. Trump just cares that he looks good on TV.
Look, we should never underestimate the ability of Democratic voters to be foolish, whiny babies. But overall I’ve been fairly impressed with Democratic leadership during these past 7ish months. From a position of very little power they’ve managed to largely halt the GOP Congressional agenda, from saving Obamacare to protecting the budget from both cuts AND wall funding. The combination of Trump’s incompetence at leading the legislature and the GOP’s squabbling caucus has left an opening for Democrats to force a staying action on policy, drastically limiting the damage Trump could have been doing. Under Bush Dems caved left and right, voting for wars, etc, but not a single one of them voted for ACA repeal, none of them are talking about giving Trump his stupid wall. Credit that to the base being vocal and strong if you want (and you should in part) but it’s also about Congressional Democrats standing strong. I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re going to continue to do so, especially as the politics (liberal rancor and Trump’s deep unfavorability) continues to push them in that direction. In other words, have faith, y’all.
Schumer as Senate leader has actually been pretty good, which I know will come as a surprise to some. Pelosi’s talent and ability are self apparent. I think that immediately claiming defeat when we just managed to get something done is crazy. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. We have to work with him in some capacity. That’s how our government functions, which is one of our core tenets as democrats: Government functioning is important. It helps people, and makes life better. What is important is not sacrificing our principles to the altar of bipartisanship, which our leaders seem to be perfectly cognizant of. There is plenty to be angry at with our government, and with Trump specifically. We don’t need to create fake stuff to enrage us.
I think there’s a basic quandary facing the Democrats is how much involvement with Trump is too much? I agree that there was essentially little more than being in the same room with him this time, and I think that’s about the right level. So much of the policy coming out of the White House is some combination of monstrous and dumb, I hope that the Democrats will basically just filterfeed off of the few things they agree with and shut down the rest. There comes a point in governing where you have to ask “is getting the trains to run on time worth collaborating with this guy?”, and they’re right on the edge, and while I think they know it, it’s a dangerous place to be.
I think that’s about right: we’ve got evidence that the Democrats know what they’re doing, and the risks involved, but it’s an easy line to step over. We’re just about out of time for the Roundtable this week; final thoughts?
I’m not really worried that this becomes a pattern of behavior with the Democrats folding to Trump, because there has been no behavior of Democrats folding to Trump. Trump did a thing that happened to benefit Dems. The people leading the Democratic party are, arguments of ideological purity and what not aside (and let them stay aside until they actually screw up, please) pretty damn competent. We have a lot of work to do, and arguing about something that is generally positive (or at least not negative) is not generally a productive time. We keep a watchful eye out for the awful stuff, but that isn’t what happened here.
I think I should reiterate, what just happened is fine and dandy, it’s the emerging narrative about “Trump working with Democrats” that sets my nose hairs aquiver. Odds are good it won’t even happen, because Trump, but the potential to advance the Democrats’ agenda in some part is a really potent lure, and when every person in Congress spends hours per week strong-arming wealthy people for campaign funds while believing it doesn’t influence their behavior one bit, I think it’s reasonable to be skeptical that they can work with the troll without getting troll poop on them.
Christopher hits on something important there. If this becomes a pattern of behavior with Trump folding to Democrats, we may run into a weird problem where they give him perceived victories, the media slobbers all over the bipartisanship, and Dems make limited policy gains while leaving a dangerous, corrupt, and illegitimate President in power. But I think this is a concern without a foundation as of yet, because Trump has generally shown no interest in working with Democrats or, for that matter, establishing consistent patterns of behavior. If Congressional Dems start losing perspective or if Trump starts gaining popularity, that’s the time to worry and yell and sound the alarm. For now? Let’s just take the win and be happy. And revisit all of this three months down the road.
And that’s about all the time we have for the Roundtable this week. Thanks, as always, everyone, for a lively and troll-reference-filled conversation!