U.S. Senate leaders were all smiles Wednesday as they announced an agreement on a two-year spending plan. The House of Representatives passed a similar continuing resolution on Tuesday. Democrat threats to shut down the government are out, bipartisan backslapping is in. So how did this come together?
The Associated Press sums it up nicely: “Senate Democratic leaders have dropped their strategy of using the funding fight to extract concessions on immigration, specifically on seeking extended protections for the ‘Dreamer’ immigrants.”
That’s a nice way of saying that Democrats folded. But why? Recall that just two weeks ago Democrats called a DACA-based amnesty nothing short of a moral imperative and “the civil rights issue of our day.” Rhetorical modesty is not considered a virtue on the Left. Neither, apparently, is constancy.
After the Schumer Shutdown turned into a public relations debacle Dick Durbin inveighed, Chuck Schumer threatened, and Nancy Pelosi…well, we couldn’t quite decipher what Nancy Pelosi said but we’re pretty sure it was meant to express Resistance™! They postured and preened for a few days but then Donald Trump offered them a DACA deal that gave them more than they asked for—nearly 2 million people legalized with a path to citizenship in exchange for some modest border security—and they walked away. Apparently, Democrats couldn’t take yes for an answer.
Trump called their bluff. Democrats never really wanted a DACA deal. Their histrionics were just crocodile tears. They really wanted two things: 1) an issue they could use to fill campaign coffers with money from coastal elites eager to signal their virtuous solidarity with immigration scofflaws they meet only in CNN’s hagiographies but never in person, and 2) a narrative of Republican villainy they could sell to credulous Resisters to keep them in a permanent state of hyperbolic outrage until election day.
With the end of Obama’s illegal DACA amnesty less than a month away, neither the House bill nor the Senate agreement contain any continuation of the program. The appetite for such a deal is, perhaps, larger when it comes from the executive than when legislators have to vote on it just a few months before facing voters. Neither the cheap-labor lobby nor the identity politics hacks in the Democratic Party will be happy, but this is a signal victory for Republicans who have, for once, sided with their voters.
The president deserves much of the credit. He led by example, providing Congress with the firmness of purpose and rigidity of spine that has been for so long lacking. And judging by the body language of congressional leaders, they like winning. Republicans are starting to show the signs of self-assurance that accompany victory.
Democrats, meanwhile, look on agog, unsure how to respond to the new script. To borrow a metaphor from Michael Anton, for years they were the Globetrotters—showboating, confident, sure of a win. And night after night the GOP dutifully played the role of the hapless Washington Generals: there for the show, but destined to lose. Not anymore.
Last April, I advised Republicans to “build trust and a sense of momentum within the party based on victories won together. Small victories will beget bigger ones.” It worked, but just barely. Republican Senators confirmed Neil Gorsuch and a slate of constitutionalist judges, they passed a major reform of the troubled Veteran’s Administration, and they reversed a number of harmful Obama-era regulations.
True, they made one major strategic error in 2017 when they tried to repeal Obamacare too soon. But that error may be forgiven. Who knew that John McCain, fresh off the campaign trail where he promised Arizona voters that he would vote for repeal—would torpedo the entire enterprise with what Lionel Trilling might have called an irritable mental gesture?
Republicans led by the president rebounded from that setback and passed a once-in-a-generation tax reform package that is already letting individuals and businesses keep more of the money they earn—and repealed the individual mandate, the most onerous and objectionable part of Obamacare. The tax cuts led to a raft of announcements from Fortune 500 companies of bonuses, wage increases, expanded hiring plans, and the promise of massive investments in the United States. Apple has announced plans to increase U.S. investment by $350 billion. Billion. Unemployment is low, the stock market is high, and there is renewed sense of the possible.
One need look no further than the launch by SpaceX of its long-promised heavy rocket. The reusable rocket takes larger payloads into orbit at a fraction of the cost fielded by competitors and then returns safely to earth, where it can be launched again. Is SpaceX a creature of the Trump era? No. But as investors, innovators, and entrepreneurs follow Musk’s example, pursuing their own projects they now operate in a friendlier business environment.
As the president’s congressional allies get a taste of victory and receive some well-earned kudos for their role in enacting the Trump agenda they build trust and will obtain the confidence to accomplish more. There is much yet to be done. The proposed spending bill includes an unsustainable deficit. That can be fixed by restoring the budget process to regular order. Obamacare still needs repeal and the deep state—unelected, self-interested, accountable to no one, out of control—must be brought to heel. There’s a wall yet to be built and pro-citizen immigration reform that ends chain migration and implements E-Verify yet to be passed. As the proverb says, slowly but surely the bird builds its nest. We’re not there yet, but today’s victory takes us one step closer.