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Trump Digs In For Border Wall Fight With Foe His Base Loves to Hate

Strategist: Speaker Pelosi is Trump’s ‘scapegoat’ as president pivots to the right

Fox News television and radio talk show host Sean Hannity interviews President Donald Trump before a campaign rally in Las Vegas on Sept. 20. Pressure by Hannity and other conservative opinion-shapers led Trump to trigger a partial government shutdown over his proposed border wall. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images file photo)
Fox News television and radio talk show host Sean Hannity interviews President Donald Trump before a campaign rally in Las Vegas on Sept. 20. Pressure by Hannity and other conservative opinion-shapers led Trump to trigger a partial government shutdown over his proposed border wall. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images file photo)

Striking a partial government shutdown-ending deal with Nancy Pelosi was always going to be difficult for Donald Trump — but then the president dug in over the weekend and made clear he is willing to endure a lengthy shutdown to placate his base.

Senior Democratic Senate sources say Trump and his top lieutenants made only one serious offer to get nearly 800,000 federal workers back on the job, adding the president himself never seemed interested in cutting a deal with the Senate’s top Democrat, fellow New Yorker Charles E. Schumer.

When talks with Schumer stalled, both chambers punted a resolution to 2019 and the White House shifted its focus to incoming Speaker Pelosi and what is shaping up to be a bitter partisan fight over immigration, perhaps the most polarizing issue right now in American politics.

In fact, the president — reportedly spooked by conservative opinion-shapers’ scorn when his aides signaled he would accept a Senate-passed stopgap funding bill that would have delayed a fight over his proposed southern border barrier until early February — seemed insistent on ensuring he would be able to fight with Pelosi over the matter.

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Lawmakers involved in the talks and analysts already since the Trump-Pelosi immigration brawl could keep the Agriculture, Homeland Security, Justice, Interior departments and some smaller federal entities closed indefinitely.

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“Right now, we’re at a standoff, and I think that’s not good for the Senate, the House, or America. We can do better, and we’ve got to figure out a way … to get to yes. If we blame each other, this could last a long, long time,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“Whether it’s the president tweeting and blaming somebody, or blaming the Democrats, or whether it’s the Democrats blaming the president, it’s brought us to the impasse that we are at today,” the Alabama Republican said Sunday.

House GOP leaders and rank-and-file members signaled that chamber was ready to quickly send to Trump’s desk any shutdown-ending pact the president and Schumer might have reached. Senate Democrats signaled they were ready to give him $1.3 billion for border “fencing” while House Democrats mostly are opposed to any U.S.-Mexico border structure. Once the 115th Congress expires, a deal to end the partial shutdown will get much harder.

“I have given up trying to understand the president’s ‘Art of the Deal’ negotiating strategy,” said G. William Hoagland, a former senior aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

But Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, said “there’s a method to Trump’s madness.”

“If Trump folds next year, he can blame Pelosi for stonewalling him. It’s easier for Trump to scapegoat the speaker of a Democratic-controlled House than it would be for him to blame the Democratic minority leader for inaction in a GOP controlled Senate,” Bannon said.

There are scant signs the president, who has been mostly holed up inside the White House since the shutdown began, is preparing to back down even as Pelosi is poised to put the Senate-approved stopgap — which Trump just two weeks ago was willing to sign — back across the Capitol in what will amount to a bluff-calling exercise.

Pelosi and her staff have yet to hear directly from Trump and his top negotiators, Vice President Mike Pence and Interim Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for the House Democratic leader.

What’s more, the president spent the weekend and Monday morning firing off a number of tweets about the border barrier impasse that signaled he is increasingly moving to the right on the matter just when a shift toward the center is needed to find common ground with Pelosi.

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He used two Saturday social media posts to blame Democrats for the deaths of two migrant children, a 7-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy, who were in the custody of U.S. officials. On Sunday, he tried painting former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama as hypocrites.

He wrote that the Obamas built “a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing, slightly larger version!” The former first couple might be among the most-admired Americans overall, but they are deeply unpopular with Trump’s conservative base.

On Monday morning, Trump was on the defensive and again appearing eager to assuage his base after outgoing White House Chief of Staff over the weekend told the Los Angeles Times that the White House “left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration.” His boss — for one more day — fired back: “An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media.”

The negotiator in chief then essentially said what Kelly told the newspaper by repeating the year-old White House line that some areas would get the kind of border barrier he campaigned on and others, based on the requests of federal law enforcement, would get other types of structures. But an hour later, Trump – who often watches the right-leaning “Fox & Friends” morning cable opinion program — was again digging in and messaging to his base.

“I campaigned on Border Security, which you cannot have without a strong and powerful Wall,” he wrote, calling the U.S.-Mexico border an “‘Open Wound,’ where drugs, criminals (including human traffickers) and illegals would pour into our Country. Dems should get back here an (SIC) fix now!”

Such rhetoric will only create further distance between Trump and House Democrats as the two sides brace for what just about everyone in Washington predicts will be a bruising partisan brawl.

“What Donald Trump and the Republicans want to do is waste $5 billion in taxpayer money on an ineffective, Medieval border wall,” New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the incoming Democratic Caucus chairman, told ABC’s “This Week.”

Trump on Thursday tweeted his stance that a “Wall will work perfectly.” Three days later, Jeffries called it “a fifth century solution to a 21st century problem.”

Watch: What Really Happens During a Government Shutdown, Explained

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