President Donald Trump’s allies are convinced any political hit he takes for the partial government shutdown will be worth the fight and are pushing him to continue to hold out on a deal to reopen the government unless it comes with significant border wall funding.
The president’s allies believe that even if he doesn't end up getting the full $5.6 billion amount, it's too early to cave just 12 days into the shutdown and that the Republican base that elected him wants to see him make wall funding a priority. Given that the shutdown is not affecting the majority of the government's operations, they also argued that the political hit — almost two years out from the next election — would be minimal.
Trump continuing to dig in is “all around a good move," said a former White House official. "In Trump's own words: 'What the hell do you have to lose?'"
"This is why he got elected," the former official added. "He tried playing it by DC's rules, now he's doing it his way. He wasn't elected to do things the way they've always been done."
In a 95-minute cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump, who stayed at the White House over the holidays and tweeted about border security nearly 40 times, repeatedly insisted on his demand for $5.6 billion for border security, saying he would keep the government closed for "as long as it takes." When asked when the government would be fully funded again, he said it "could be a long time."
“It’s too important a subject to walk away from,” Trump said.
Trump also met with congressional leaders in the situation room of the White House Thursday afternoon, but they didn’t make much progress. “We are asking the president to open up government,” Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi said after the meeting. “We are giving him a Republican path to do that. So, why would he not do it?”
Some of his allies also believe that with Democrats taking over the House this week, the blame for the shutdown might be shared or eventually shift away from just Trump, who only weeks ago said he would be "proud" to shut down the government for wall funding. The president has since tried blaming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for the stalemate, branding it the #SchumerShutdown in tweets.
Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, a close Trump ally and a regular on Fox News, also pointed out in a recent appearance on the president's favorite network that many of the districts in Maryland and Virginia where government employees live are now represented by Democrats.
"As we roll deeper into the shutdown, I think that the Democrats will experience more pain than the Republicans," he said.
Stories from government employees or their family members about how the shutdown was affecting them went viral on Twitter during the holidays. About 800,000 federal workers are expected to be furloughed or working without pay. But the president is not one to make his political decisions based on the plight of government workers, said former senator Rick Santorum, a Trump defender on CNN, after Thursday’s cabinet meeting. “The president is not long on empathy,” he said on the network. “The president really thinks he can weather this storm.”
Trump has some reason to listen to his allies this time around. He was criticized by right-wing icons like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity for signing a spending package early in 2018 without securing significant money for wall funding, and didn’t see any big political gain in November from putting off the fight. When Trump appeared on track to sign another such bill last month, they again called him out on his inability to deliver on a top campaign promise, and he eventually refused to sign a bill with less than $5 billion in funding for border security.
Over the last 12 days of the partial shutdown, little has changed. Lawmakers left Washington for the holidays, and the White House and Trump’s allies on the hill have called a Democratic proposal to end the shutdown a “nonstarter.”
Despite the impasse, another source close to the White House said the partial shutdown had not been getting the kind of wall-to-wall coverage past funding crises have received, making it unnecessary for Trump to give up at this point.
"When an op-ed from Mitt Romney can take over the news cycle with 25% of the government shut down, it’s not really a crisis," the source said, referring to Romney's op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing the president. "Any hit Trump was going to take on the shutdown happened right away. It’s not like three weeks later there are going to be people who are all of a sudden like, 'At first I didn’t care, but now Trump is really screwing us.'"
"At this point, you might as well keep fighting the fight."