EDITORIAL: Another non-starter on federal shutdown

York Dispatch Editorial Board

For the second time this month, President Donald Trump delivered what was billed as a major announcement on the ongoing partial government shutdown. And for the second time this month, the president had little to offer besides posturing, past proposals and passing the buck.

Speaking amid what is now the longest government shutdown in U.S. history – though he mentioned it only in passing — Trump on Saturday offered what he called “common-sense compromise.” But there was little of either.

He did not, for instance, drop one penny from his demand of $5.7 billion for construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border. And his offer of a three-year extension of legal protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally as children wouldn’t be necessary if he himself wasn’t trying to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which guaranteed such protections. (The courts have thus far blocked him.)

The proposals — crafted by a handful of Republican insiders led by the president’s son-in-law, White House advisor Jared Kushner — seem intended not so much to end the shutdown as to shift the blame, which has increasingly and correctly landed at the doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Serious compromise should be conducted with the opposing party, not delivered as a take-it-or-leave-it public pronouncement.

President Donald Trump leaves the podium after speaking about the partial government shutdown, immigration and border security in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

And guess who’s taking it? Surprise, surprise — missing-in-action Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell emerged from his shell to announce the Senate will vote on the proposal. This runs counter to McConnell’s previous assertions that he would bring to the floor only a deal that had been agreed to by the White House and the Democratic-led House.

The plan seems clear: If the Republican-led Senate passes the bill, Trump and McConnell can then attempt to paint House Democrats as the roadblock to re-opening the government.

Democrats are not likely to take the bait. Nor should the public. Trump last month announced his readiness to close the government in the border-wall dispute and the decision — and the shutdown — is his.

Much like his nationally televised address to the nation earlier this month, Trump had little new to offer on Saturday. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi was quick to declare the proposals — including new border agents and judges, $800 million for “urgent humanitarian assistance” and another $800 million for drug detection technology at ports of entry like airports — “a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable.”

Trump responded with a Sunday spree of Twitter threats designed more to score political points than to persuade skeptics.

If Trump ever decides to get serious about ending the standoff, he must negotiate directly with Democratic leaders. And that doesn’t mean demanding money for a border wall and then storming out when he doesn’t get his wish. That means legitimate give and take, compromise and cooperation; the kind of deal-making that was much ballyhooed by candidate Trump but has been little evinced by President Trump.

It also means keeping his word.

Speaking from the White House Saturday, the president insisted that “both sides in Washington must simply come together.” They already did.

All sides agreed to a budget deal in December that provided all of the White House’s originally requested $1.6 billion for border security. The Senate even passed the measure — unanimously. It was only then that Trump, stung by criticism from conservative chatmeisters, went back on his word.

Now, the shutdown is into its second month, some 800,000 federal workers remain either furloughed or working without pay and financial experts are warning that the standoff is increasingly costly to the U.S. economy.

The president should be addressing congressional Democrats, not television cameras. It’s time he put a little thought into building bridges rather than walls.