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Inside the Government Shutdown: What You Need to Know

The government grinds to a halt, marking a year of Trump dysfunction

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Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a press conference in the Capitol as Congress works on a solution to end the government shutdown.

Tom Williams / Contributor

Playing chicken with children’s healthcare, but unwilling to deliver an agreement on the fate of undocumented Dreamers, Republicans shut down the government on Friday night.

Here’s what you need to know about how we got to the “Shithole shutdown” — and what happens next.

A Broken Promise
The shutdown was set in motion on January 11th, when President Trump blew up bipartisan negotiations on immigration by decrying efforts to extend green cards to arrivals from “shithole countries.” Trump had earlier signaled he would sign whatever Senate leaders brought to the the table. But a rearguard action by hardliners in his inner circle turned Trump against compromise. The president’s racist outburst scuttled the delicate agreement, which not only encompassed the fate of the Dreamers (800,000 young people brought to the country illegally as children) but also the funding of the federal government.

A House Switcheroo
Scrambling to save face and keep the government open, Republicans in the House came up with a short term funding bill (called a “continuing resolution” or “CR” in the jargon of Capitol Hill) that would keep the government open into February. To make the bill hard for Democrats to vote against, Republicans attached funding for a 6-year extension of CHIP — the child health insurance program that enjoys broad bipartisan support. The backstory here is ugly. Republicans have been refusing to fully fund CHIP – which serves about 9 million children – since late September, forcing states to scramble to keep their programs open. Republicans evidently believed that Democrats would ditch the Dreamers to protect sick kids and vote to keep the government’s lights on.

Democrats (and Republicans) Balk
No longer trusting Republicans to negotiate in good faith – and deliver a deal for the Dreamers before deportations are slated to begin in March, Democrats decided to take a stand. House Democrats largely united against the CR, which nonetheless passed in the House. And Friday night all but five Democratic senators voted against a companion Senate funding bill. (They were joined by four Republican hardliners who opposed the funding measure for economic reasons.) The bipartisan opposition left the funding bill far short of the 60 votes needed for passage – precipitating a partial government shutdown.

Another Dashed Deal
Self-styled deal-maker President Trump had sought out Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer to negotiate over cheeseburgers on Friday. The president and Schumer hammered out the contours of a deal that could have given Trump funding for his Wall in exchange for protection for the Dreamers. But that deal was dashed after hardline advisers in the White House appeared, once again, to wag the dog. Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly called Schumer to kill the deal for being too liberal.

What Happens Next?
The partial government shutdown will furlough “non-essential” government workers. The mail will still be delivered, and TSA screeners will still scan your bags at airports, but other agencies will be largely shuttered – including the IRS, which is scrambling to implement the new rules from Republican tax reform. The shutdown could create clarity and drive a compromise before the furloughs take full effect on Monday, but negotiations Saturday morning appeared marked by retrenchment and bitterness.

The Capstone to a Year of Dysfunction
President Trump should have been celebrating his first year in office, with a party at Mar-a-Lago and a victory lap marking his $1.5 trillion tax-giveaway. Instead, he’s presiding over a mess of his own creation. 

Far from taking responsibility for the foul, racist outburst that set the shutdown in motion, Trump lashed out at Democrats, who control no branch of our government. “Democrats are far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “They could have easily made a deal but decided to play Shutdown politics instead.”

For his part, Schumer called the shutdown the “perfect encapsulation of the chaos he’s unleashed on our government.” Speaking to reporters, Schumer added: “Instead of living up to the great deal maker he marketed himself to be, he’s been the single driving force in scuttling bipartisan deals in Congress.”

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