The only brief periods of national unity — or even national comity — we experience these days come from disasters, natural or otherwise. Is that what it will take to get both sides of the shutdown war to emerge from their trenches and cut a deal? Everyone else wonders about this too, so it’s no surprise that McKay Coppins hears the same kind of despair on Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle:
As the longest government shutdown in American history lurches toward its fifth week, a grim but growing consensus has begun to emerge on Capitol Hill: There may be no way out of this mess until something disastrous happens.
This is, of course, not a sentiment lawmakers are eager to share on the record. But in interviews this week with congressional staffers on both sides of the aisle (whom I granted anonymity in exchange for candor), I heard the same morbid idea expressed again and again.
The basic theory—explained to me between weary sighs and defeated shrugs—goes like this: Washington is at an impasse that looks increasingly unbreakable. President Donald Trump is dug in; so is Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Democrats have public opinion on their side, but the president is focused on his conservative base. For a deal to shake loose in this environment, it may require a failure of government so dramatic, so shocking, as to galvanize public outrage and force the two parties back to the negotiating table.
As one Democrat told Coppins, “This is all pageantry.” That’s in reference to the refusal to negotiate as well as the tit-for-tat over the State of the Union speech and CODELs figures into this. Allahpundit noted earlier that our political class is “pure trash,” and the prospect of 535 elected officials with the ability to bridge this gap sitting around waiting for a disaster to change the calculation emphasizes that conclusion. Pageantry, indeed.
By the way, Pelosi’s “power play” isn’t looking so good to the rank and file. One aide to a House Democrat called it “pointless”:
And yet for her and many of her colleagues on the Hill, she told me, “the mood is general depression.” She’d found Pelosi’s latest stunt—disinviting Trump from the State of the Union—“pointless,” and she longed for a bipartisan deal that would let her get back to work on a proactive policy agenda.
She was trying to stay upbeat, she told me. “But it’s pretty bad,” she said. “I’ve been in D.C. nine years, and I’ve never seen people this miserable.”
Speaking of miserable, be sure to read through all of the suggestions for disasters that might change the ground on the standoff over a request that amounts to 0.12% of the federal budget. If there’s any light at the end of this tunnel, it’s that it probably won’t require a fatal disaster to break the logjam. The secondary and tertiary impacts of the shutdown will begin to pick up steam, especially as air travel snarls go longer and wider. Federal workers will get their back pay eventually, but all of the places they spend it might not recover lost sales. At some point, that pressure will start getting felt in Washington and force a return to the negotiating table — if not by Pelosi and Trump, then by other members in the House and Senate.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) calls the entire spectacle “petty,” including the cancellation of the SOTU and the CODELs. “It’s time that we actually act like adults,” Kinzinger told CNN this morning, and stop trying to contest the next presidential election as is obviously the case in this standoff. No one’s going to win a total victory in this process, and it’s time that both sides realize it before disaster really does strike. Or better yet, we can hope that politicians realize that compromise isn’t the equivalent or worse than actual disasters … especially this far from the next election.