31 January 2019
Steady On The Gas
Trump at the wheel.
By J R Thomas
President Trump, not unlike a well-known prince, is starting to find that steering is not so easy if others get in the way. In The Donald’s case, what is newly getting in his way is a House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats, driven by Nancy Pelosi, who is enjoying being back at the controls. When the House sent the President an Appropriations Bill to authorise Federal spending to sign, it looked like a very easy manoeuvre for him to send it back without the Presidential scrawl on the bottom, asking them to add on a couple of billion to pay to extend the Mexico border wall. Or fence, if you like, the President is not going to split hairs on the detail.
The Congressional Democrats are more divided (as well as disparate) than the casual observer might think. But in these early days of exercising power, if there is anything that unites them, it is dislike, verging on contempt, for the current occupant of the Oval Office. So they were never likely to agree to fund the Wall, a key brick (or wire) in Mr Trump’s electoral manifesto, and one which is causing him increasing troubles in how to deliver it. They said “no”, the President kept his pen locked away, and the Federal government functions gradually closed down as the various departments ran out of money and laid off staff. That stalemate lasted a month, and it seems as though the initial public support for the President faded significantly as media pictures of unpaid workers grew. Unexpectedly, though, the President surrendered last weekend, with an elegant speech praising the dignity of those laid off and the generosity of those who continued to work although unpaid. “You are fantastic people, incredible patriots,” he said. Mr Trump proceeded to sign off enough funding for all employees to be paid in full and for three weeks for full functioning of federal systems, whilst further negotiations are attempted.
What happens after that? It seems unlikely that the House, and in particular Ms Pelosi, the House Speaker, are likely to concede anything at all after that taste of victory. The President says that he may still need to take special measures – by which he would like the Democrats to think he means declaring a state of emergency to stop illegal immigration across the border. That, though, the White House and Congress both know, would not be so easy. There has been illegal migration over the border for many years, and in fact the numbers crossing are thought to have declined quite significantly in recent years, so justifying any “emergency” would almost certainly be challenged in the courts; at the very least that could lead to months of delay.
The Democrats though are not quite as joyful in victory as might be assumed. The extension of the existing fence and wall is in itself not unpopular with many voters, especially those low paid or in menial jobs who fear continuing growth in the workforce. They are the people who used to be loyal Democrat voters but who backed Mr Trump in 2016. The Democrats would like them back, though preferably without alienating the increasingly Hispanic voter-base of the Democrat Party. And Ms Pelosi and some of her colleagues wonder if The Donald might be up to something. It is not like him to give in; and his praise of Federal workers was very nicely done. What could he be up to, though?
The Mexican government is certainly not going to pay for the Wall, Mr Trump’s original suggestion. That was never very likely, and with the election of a leftist President in Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, it is not going to happen now. But having a very left-leaning government on the south-west border might be helpful to Mr Trump and the Republicans over the next couple of years. The Mexican economy was in a bad way before the election and the new government is thought unlikely to do much to make things better. Mr Trump has been busy a bit further south-west, in Venezuela, where he has praised Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition, and recognised him as the legitimate president, in replacement of Nicolas Maduro, who still has the keys to the Presidential palace but looks very beleaguered. Whether Mr Guaidó can make the move to legal president will depend on the army, but this is all good stuff for Mr Trump, who at the very least is looking moderate and democratic in his foreign policy, and if Mr Guaidó pulls it off, will have the moral advantage of being the first western country to support him publicly. That does not say anything about walls directly, but it helps Mr T’s image and it is not good for that of the Dems, some of whom sailed a little close to the old Venezuelan regime.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the island… Peter Pan devotees will recall that nothing disturbed Captain Hook quite so much as the loud ticking of a clock, especially one that seemed to be getting closer. That was because of the crocodile that had swallowed not just the clock, but also Hooky’s hand. Mr Trump’s dread noise must be the stealthy approach of Robert Mueller, as he gets ever nearer to the President, snatching an aide here, biting a presidential lawyer there. Latest to feel the special counsel’s teeth is Roger Stone, a Florida-based friend of Mr Trump who was active before and during the electoral campaign of 2016. Mr Stone was arrested last week and charged with witness tampering, obstruction, and lying to Congress. Mr Stone denies it all, saying that he did not lie, he forgot “to tell something to Congress and what it was was immaterial”. But these charges suggest that both ends of this crocodile may bite. Mr Mueller is interested in the end which might have been telling Mr Trump useful things to help in his election campaign, but the other end may just turn out to have sharp teeth. Mr Stone was talking to Julian Assange, that long term guest of various Ecuadorean ambassadors to the Court of St James. And Mr Assange was busy running his WikiLeaks activity sourcing and releasing emails that were damaging to the interests of Mrs H Clinton; whose email handling seems a trifle odd and conducted in a manner not conducive to the highest levels of security. Hillary saw all this off before, but it must be annoying, especially if she was thinking of having one more go at running for President in 2020, that there is a rhythmic rustle in the undergrowth.
Not so annoying, the cynical observer might ponder, for other Democratically orientated persons after the same job. At the moment so many such have announced that they are going to run, or are considering running, or that their friends are urging them to run, that we would almost need a special edition of the Shaw Sheet to list them. But most notable in the respective categories are Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. All of them would no doubt praise Mrs Clinton for her many years of service if she decided to bow out of the ring and take her dogs (Tally and Maisie) for extra walks. Whether she will or not no doubt depends on many factors, not least whether she too can hear a muffled but unmistakeable ticking.