Saturday, 1 June 2019

Trump, Dems Blowup Is Case Of 'Too Many Fuses’: Chad Pergram

It’s rare to repeat things in this space. But occasionally, a quotation or a line resonates in a special way. Such a sentence quintessentially distills the essence of a political episode or circumstance in Washington. That’s the case with this line from horror master Stephen King in the short story The Drawing of the Three. And it deserves an encore.

“There were too many shaky hands holding the lighters near too many fuses,” wrote King.

It’s doubtful we could top that gem by King – especially when describing how the recent White House meeting on infrastructure incinerated in such spectacular fashion.

The level of combustibility between President Trump and Congressional Democrats is at a threshold rarely achieved in Washington. So, it’s probably best to defer to King to characterize why things blew up – and what that means for the sides negotiating big issues later this year. Consider what’s on the table: a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, avoiding a government shutdown and hiking the debt ceiling.


It is clear that in advance of the infrastructure meeting that Congressional Democrats and the Trump Administration laid a trap for one another.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other top Democrats were at the White House earlier this spring. That’s when the sides seemingly agreed to spend $2 trillion on an elusive and overdue infrastructure package. But Democrats were waiting for President Trump to deduce a “pay-for” to cover the cost of the plan.

“We look forward to hearing the President’s plan for how to pay for this package,” said Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, in a joint statement the night before the meeting.

That was the Democratic trap.

Unearthing such a monumental pay-for was almost an econometric impossibility for the Trump Administration. Democrats believe the President was seeking an exit strategy for the infrastructure effort. Pelosi opened the door for Mr. Trump just minutes before the second infrastructure conclave. The Speaker left a meeting of House Democrats on impeachment, lawsuits and investigations, declaring to Capitol Hill reporters in a nearby hallway that the President “is engaged in a cover-up.” The California Democrat didn’t answer a question as to whether it was appropriate to then depart the Capitol for an immediate session with the President, considering the subjects covered with the House Democratic Caucus.

Sources on both sides of the aisle tell Fox that Mr. Trump may have lain in wait for the Speaker – intending to blow up the infrastructure talks. Just the night before, the President sent a message to Pelosi and Schumer. President Trump suggested he may prefer that Congress first approve the trade arrangement with Mexico and Canada and then pivot to infrastructure. Numerous sources pointed out that President Trump’s missive may have been the first escape hatch. But Pelosi provided the President with an even better exit ramp after she uttered her “cover up” line.

How impeachment debate derailed infrastructure talks, threatens Democratic agendaVideo
To some, President Trump may have seemed “unpresidential” that day, abruptly ending the White House meeting – regardless of the circumstances which may have stoked his behavior. That said, the President captured the narrative he wanted.

For a time.

Mr. Trump and GOPers have long aimed to portray Democrats as rabid when it comes to impeachment and probes. Democrats may say they want to focus the national conversation on “bread and butter issues.” But fissures inside the Democratic Caucus do little to maintain that political rendering. Democrats know a deviation from their core legislative message could spell trouble for them in 2020. It’s a problem if Democrats are “perceived” as pushing too hard on investigations preoccupied with impeachment. So, the President may have won that round initially.

However, Pelosi holds some pretty good cards.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified at a House hearing two weeks ago. Mnuchin told the House Financial Services Committee that lawmakers needed to raise the debt limit “as soon as possible.” Mnuchin warned that if Congress doesn’t act by late summer the “impact would be quite significant.”

After the hearing, Mnuchin told Hillary Vaughn of Fox Business that “it is a big priority of mine to make sure the debt limit is raised.” Otherwise, we could face an epic debt ceiling crisis, ala the summer of 2011. That could spark a market shock.

One doesn’t have to look too far to see a financial system already rattled by talk about tariffs on China and Mexico. Wall Street is in a selloff mode. The bond market is skittish. People are fretting about U.S. treasuries and inversion yield curves.

The sides also have to figure out a way to keep the government open in September. And, Mr. Trump wants to eliminate mandatory spending caps (known as sequestration) which harnesses spending. The sequester is particularly brutal when it comes to defense – a priority of the President.

Key point: President Trump needs Democratic votesat several different inflection points this year. Otherwise, there could be everything from a government shutdown to a market crash.

There is an old saying on Capitol Hill: “Settle early. Pay less.”

To wit: they may never get a deal on infrastructure. But they have to figure out a way to avoid another epic government shutdown fight this fall. Perhaps more importantly, they must raise the debt ceiling. So, the failure to agree to something early (granted, they were supposed to talk about infrastructure, but everything kind of bleeds together these days in Washington) will likely cost more later.

President Trump may have pushed back hard against Democrats and their investigations in the Oval Office nearly two weeks ago. There are certainly big risks for Democrats. But if there are deals to be had, the price tag just went up.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued the sides were approaching a deal on spending caps and the debt ceiling as recently as the day before the failed White House meeting. Republicans and President Trump may still secure an agreement on a host of issues. But it will cost them. Pelosi will likely demand a king’s ransom now in exchange for helping the President with some of his priorities and avoiding a fiscal calamity which could doom his re-election bid next year.

There was lots of dry kindling. The wind was blowing the wrong direction. Everything was doused with kerosene. All it took was for political arsonists to strike a match and blow the thing to kingdom come.

That’s where we are in Washington.

But Stephen King said it better.

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