EDITORIAL: Trump, Pelosi and the shutdown shuffle

York Dispatch Editorial Board

Well, that was a waste of time … and energy … and money.

By the time he waved the white flag Friday, ending the longest-ever government shutdown, President Donald Trump had gained absolutely nothing. His demand for border wall funding had been dropped, mirroring his approval ratings.

Now, he and congressional leaders are right back where they were in late December — apart on the issues and facing a budget deadline.

That reality was likely of little immediate concern to the 800,000 or so federal workers who are finally being paid for the first time in 35 days. Nor did it diminish relief at the nation’s airports, where rising absences amid unpaid air traffic controllers were increasingly causing flight delays.

Those burgeoning air traffic snarls, along with stories of federal workers visiting food banks and cracks in GOP unity — six Republican senators voted earlier last week for a Democratic bill to reopen the government without money for a border wall — led Trump to a decision he should have made back in December: Debate border-wall funding amid a fully functioning government.

The new agreement gives Trump and Congress until Feb. 15 to renegotiate a spending package that includes funding for border security.

That’s the good news. The bad news: Their positions haven’t changed.

To Democrats, border security entails more border patrol agents and judges, the use of drones and sensors, and new security systems at airports and other ports of entry. To Trump, it means a wall.

If the president was conciliatory in his Rose Garden remarks Friday announcing the deal, he was back to insisting, via Twitter on Saturday: “BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL.”

President Donald Trump walks through the Colonnade from the Oval Office of the White House as he arrives to announce a deal to temporarily reopen the government, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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Trump has hinted at a willingness to again shut down the government should his demand for $5 billion-plus for a border wall not be met. He has also toyed with the idea of declaring a national emergency, although the fact that he will have waited nearly two months from the initial budget standoff to make such a declaration waters down that argument (which is, perhaps, why he made reference in a separate Twitter message Saturday to a “big” new caravan of immigrants headed toward the U.S.).

Let’s hope neither a new shutdown nor a questionable claim of emergency comes to pass. Better to follow the advice of Pennsylvania’s senators, Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey, and find bipartisan middle ground that addresses border security with across-the-board compromises.

In the meantime, what of the State of the Union address? The president’s annual declaration to Congress and the nation became, like much else, entangled in the shutdown.

In this battle, credit Trump for a rare turn as the voice of reason.

The tête-à-tête began when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested the event should not be held while the government is closed. Actually, more than suggest; she refused to pass the necessary legislation green-lighting the address. She citied security concerns but it was hard not to see political gamesmanship at play.

Pelosi may have been correct in principle that a State of the Union address during a government shutdown is practically a contradiction in terms. But, frankly, that’s a call that should be left to the White House.

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If the president wants to argue that the nation is going great guns while unpaid government workers are frequenting soup kitchens and passenger jets are idling on tarmacs amid safety concerns, well, they’re his poll numbers.

Neither party covers itself in glory when charting new territory in divisiveness. Besides, it just gives the opposition cover to go one step further. 

In any event, Trump announced he agreed with Pelosi’s “reasonable” position and would delay his address until the shutdown was over.

Whether the current three-week reprieve qualifies has not yet been made clear.

What is clear is that, whenever the address is eventually held, it very much ought to include announcement about congressional agreements on the budget and border security.