EDITORIAL: Trump tried to burn down the house and he got burned

SHARE EDITORIAL: Trump tried to burn down the house and he got burned

Democrats and some Republicans say there is no border emergency. They say President Donald Trump is improperly declaring one to work around Congress’ rejection. | AP Photo

Janusz Leja, a vendor in the Metcalfe Federal Building in the Loop, can get back to selling coffee. He’ll have customers again.

Federal employees in Chicago won’t have to take out those low-interest loans being offered by the state. They’ll be getting a paycheck again.


And nobody will have to go to BJ’s Market & Bakery on 79th Street to get one of those free dinners BJ’s is offering to federal employees and their families. They’ll be able to pay now.

President Donald Trump agreed Friday to reopen the federal government for three weeks, getting nothing from the Democrats in return, and that’s how it should have been — on both counts.

It was reprehensible for Trump to shut down the government, holding up the pay of some 800,000 workers, to force Democrats in the House to pay for a border wall that he had long ago twisted into a toxic symbol of bigotry.

And it would have been foolish for the Democrats to budge. Trump is a stranger to empathy. Had the Democrats agreed to anything before he reopened the government, he would have pulled the same destructive stunt again and again.

Trump being Trump, maybe he still will. If a deal with Congress is not reached by Feb. 15 that includes funding for his wall, Trump threatened Friday, he might shut down the government again or declare a state of emergency and bypass the legislative branch altogether.

This would be self-defeating. The American people overwhelmingly blame Trump and the Republican Party for the shutdown, as polls show, and the president will get hammered even harder if he dares to shut the government again. To claim a state of emergency would be a transparent act of desperation.

But Trump is a slow learner when his sense of manhood is on the line. We’ll just have to see how he responds to marching orders from Fox News, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.

All federal government shutdowns exact a price, and this shutdown has been particularly costly. By Friday, according to an analysis by S&P Global Economics, the shutdown had cost the U.S. economy an estimated $5.7 billion. That’s the same amount of money Trump is demanding for the border wall that prompted the shutdown in the first place. Early in the shutdown, Trump’s own chief economist estimated the overall cost would be about $1.2 billion a week.

Government shutdowns accomplish little as a rule, and they usually burn those who force them. Republicans in Congress generally were blamed for three shutdowns during the Clinton administration — for three days, five days and 21 days — over spending disputes. Republicans took another public relations hit and also failed in their objective in 2013 when they shut down the government for 16 days in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Last January, it was the Democrats who took the lead on a shutdown, this time for three days, in an effort to extend legal protections for DACA immigrants — undocumented young men and women who were brought to this country as children. Trump also wanted funding for his wall, although not so adamantly as he does now.

To end that impasse a year ago, GOP leaders agreed to address the future of the so-called Dreamers— which, by the way, they then failed to do.

This editorial board was on board at the time with the goals of the Democrats, but not with the means. Even the shortest shutdown creates scattered problems, we wrote then, and there ought to be a law against them.

In all likelihood, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats will never give Trump the billions he wants for his wall. It’s just too toxic.

If the president is the master negotiator he claims to be, he’ll proceed from that reality.

Burning down the house will never work.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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