Last week, with Congress heading for yet another government shutdown, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said, "Our country was founded by geniuses, but it's run by idiots." Determined to prove Sen. Kennedy right, our Republican controlled government — led by a Republican president who touted his negotiating prowess in "Art of the Deal"— failed to collect enough votes to keep our government running.
U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., was quick to point a finger at the White House, commenting, "We don't have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with ...".
Governed by idiocy, or unreliability? It really doesn’t matter. Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to preside over a government shutdown with his party in control of both the House and the Senate. And it came just one year after he took the oath of office.
With Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, doing his level best to argue that the shutdown was a problem of the Democrat Party, it's necessary to look at the big picture over time. Let's review.
Let’s start with “Project Save Our Seats.”
It was 2013. Republicans, led by then-Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, decided not to bring a comprehensive immigration bill – the Dream Act, S. 744 – to the House floor, even though it had bipartisan support. Why? Because Speaker Boehner didn't want his party to be on record voting for an immigration bill. That would leave sitting Republicans open to being "primaried" by tea party extremists who oppose virtually any kind of immigration bill.
When Rep. Eric Cantor, R-W.Va., lost his seat the following year to a tea party candidate, immigration was dead in the water for the Republican Party.
In response to the GOP's failure to bring the Dream Act to his desk, in 2014 President Obama decided to expand his 2012 program for undocumented migrant children, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The program allowed law abiding migrant kids to stay in the U.S. under a series of guidelines that keeps them working, in school, in the military, or a combination thereof.
Though DACA was always designed to be a temporary fix, it became America's de facto immigration program for children.
Fast forward to September 2017. To appease his base, Donald Trump said he would end DACA by March 2018. He didn’t have to do it, he just did it. Trump said many things about the issue at the time, many of which are hard to take seriously. Reading through the mix, though, Trump effectively told Congress to fix DACA or to send him a comprehensive immigration bill. He added that, with a GOP-led Congress, he would sign what they sent him.
Jumping forward to January 2018, Donald Trump responded to a question posed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., saying he would accept a "clean" (no riders, or other deals) DACA deal. Trump was immediately “corrected” by McCarthy, who reminded Trump that border security had to be part of a DACA deal.
McCarthy should know better. In an exchange I had with him on the Ralph Bailey Show, I explained to him why border security didn’t have to be part of our immigration discussion. In effect, it’s a 14th century solution to a 21st century issue. Still, McCarthy’s point was taken. Trump flip-flopped and now says a border wall has to be part of any immigration deal. (Thank you, Kevin.)
Things took a turn for the worse when, after saying he would sign anything put in front of him supported by Republicans, Trump rejected a bipartisan budget proposal presented by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. When they arrived to present Trump with the plan, he rejected it out of hand, asking why we had to let in people from "shithole countries" like Haiti.
Another last-minute deal blew up, ending with a comical "he said, she said" exchange between Congress and the Executive Branch.
And just like that, we had a government shutdown, again.
It didn't matter to Donald Trump that the Democrats were putting more money on the table for the military. It didn't matter they also offered money for Trump's border wall. If the bipartisan deal included immigration and DACA – which the GOP stalled on, and then blew up in 2013 and 2017 – Trump wasn’t going to sign, even though he said we would.
Graham's comment that Trump is not a "reliable" partner might be too generous. Trump is not only unreliable, he's a liability. He has no idea what he's doing, and he's surrounded himself with sycophants and toadies who seem more than happy to surrender both their principles and their sworn duty as public servants to please him.
Kennedy, the Louisiana Republican, was probably closer to the point than Graham on this one. At this moment in time, our U.S. Congress is run by idiots. They are shadow boxing with themselves and, incredibly, they turned out the lights … on themselves.
The Republican Party and Donald Trump own this government shutdown, and the one that’s sure to follow.
Mark A. Martinez, Ph.D., is chairman of the Department of Political Science at Cal State Bakersfield. The opinions expressed are his own.