Without question, President Donald Trump blinked Friday as he stood alone at the Rose Garden podium.
“We have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” Trump said to his staff’s applause, perhaps the only ones in Washington compelled to celebrate.
Because on Friday, Trump got nothing. No money for a wall. Nothing.
The Democrats got what they wanted: a re-opened government, and continued talks.
And the 800,000 furloughed workers will get back pay “quickly,” as Trump promised.
But the announcement agreement only keeps the government open until Feb. 15, a window of time to try to make a new deal.
Essentially, the shutdown may be over, but Trump’s eyes remain shut.
He’s still dreaming about his wall.
Trump did talk about bi-partisan discussions to take place, and he even threw a bone to the Democrats when he talked about a “smart wall,” and not a “medieval wall.”
But he continued to make dubious claims about stopping drugs that come across the southern border and find their way “into schools.” And his favorite story about women bound and gagged in the trunks of cars and driven across the border. And in Trump’s view, it would all be remedied with his fantasy border wall.
“So let me be very clear, we really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump said in closing. “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15 again or I will use the powers afforded me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”
There’s the threat. Another shutdown. After the longest shutdown in history could come Shutdown: The Sequel. And he’s still threatening bypassing Congress and getting his wall money by his own regal signature.
I called a furloughed Filipino American federal worker in Washington, D.C. He was a fully tenured professor in a comfortable position when he left to take a federal job. I am leaving him anonymous to protect his privacy and to encourage candor.
He wasn’t quite paycheck to paycheck yet. But he was watching the announcement.
He couldn’t believe Trump would continue to use another shutdown as a bargaining tool.
“The house should pass new rules to fix the appropriations process,” my friend told me. He said automatic continuing resolutions would put an end to government shutdowns as a negotiating tool.
Agreed. Shutdowns only seem to be useful if you like shooting yourself in the foot. They should be banned.
During the shutdown, my friend was prohibited by law from calling fellow furloughed workers to talk about the work that’s piling up. He couldn’t use his government-issued laptop or phone. Nor could he stop by his office.
“I want to see my office so I can get back to work,” he told me. ““This was an (effing) waste of time. “Imagine all the stress (of all us federal workers) of not being able to provide for your family. It’s all on Trump.”
And all the cheering at the Rose Garden?
“Even in defeat, you got to call it a victory,” he said. “That’s the MO of entitled, mediocre white males: you never lose.”
The irony is the deal that’s on the table now is the same one that was there in December, that Trump had agreed to, but then changed his mind after right-wing pundits declared his presidency would be over if he gave in on the wall.
Trump didn’t know what to do but cave to the right.
Shutting down the government and holding out for a wall created even greater security concerns from air traffic, to food safety, to unpaid military and law enforcement. Unpaid FBI agents had to arrest Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone on Friday. I’m sure that gave Trump a little push to change the narrative by reopening government. All that and the poll results showing that the public was blaming him for the shutdown.
Add it all up and you get the Friday Rose Garden performance, when Trump caved toward the left.
“Trump is weak,” my friend said. “He has no idea how to govern. If Democrats can’t beat him in 2020, this country will deserve his second term.”
It’s true. Trump blinked. Both eyes. And his eyes are still shut. It’s like he’s bird-boxing the presidency.
But do the Democrats and Pelosi have what it takes to lead the way and unite the country?
We better hope so. We don’t need a shutdown sequel. Or a fake emergency that demands a wall.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. You can follow him on Twitter @emilamok