For the more than 800,000 federal government workers who have been furloughed across the United States as a result of the political impasse in Washington over funding of a proposed wall with Mexico, these are worrying times. And even more so if President Donald Trump carries through on his threat uttered late Friday to keep the federal government shut down for months — that of a longer shutdown.
The reality though is that these workers could be back on the job relatively quickly if there is a political desire in the Oval Office to do so. But right now, that desire is lacking, with the president seemingly intent instead on pandering to those on the talk-radio circuit who say the border wall is the fundamental issue affecting Americans today — a key Trump campaign promise — and it needs to be built now.
This standoff, however, speaks to the new reality that exists in Washington, one that sees the Republicans still in charge of the Senate, the Democrats dominant in the newly sworn-in 116th Congress, and the president now more isolated and exposed than during his first two years. For the next two years to be productive, the president will need to learn pretty quickly that the art of the deal involves the art of the political compromise, and to achieve progress will mean dialling down the rhetoric and turning down the volume on that talk radio constituency.
As it stands now, the Democrat-controlled Congress has proposed a series of measures that will get the sequestered federal workers back on the job, bills that also allow for the immediate funding of the departments affected, which include Homeland Security and those who protect US borders. Republicans in the Senate seem reluctant to pass those measures, knowing that they will remain unsigned on the president’s desk as he uses his veto powers to insist on the $5.6 billion (Dh20.56 billion) to build his wall.
Cracks, however, are beginning to appear in the Republican ranks, with at least GOP senators calling for the bills to be put to a vote. If indeed the Senate does pass those bills, the political focus will shift firmly to the Oval Office to see if indeed the president will follow through on his veto threats. Trump has threatened to declare the southern border a national emergency, trying to raise the funds for the wall by use of his executive powers. Such a move, however, would indeed strain those powers and would also lead to a deterioration in his relationship with his Senate partners. Right now, he is isolated, a worrying place given the troubles that await him in the coming months.