January 22, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

No Negotiating with a Criminal Mind

The only way out is for Trump to break first.

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Some anti-Trump conservatives hope that Senate Republicans will come to their senses, and reopen the federal government after a stunning 32 days of closure.

They overlook an important nuance: President Donald Trump is getting more blame so far than the Republican Party is. In standing with him, Senate Republicans avoid accountability while appeasing the president’s base. Even if they wanted to reopen the government, why do that when they can point the finger at the White House?

This dynamic will be illustrated today after Mitch McConnell brings up for a Senate vote Trump’s offer to protect DACA recipients for three years in exchange for nearly $6 billion to build a wall. McConnell knows the bill is dead in the House. Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats won’t trade a temporary fix to Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals for a wall. They won’t reward a president for holding the government to ransom. Any border deal, they say, must come after the government reopens.

That doesn’t matter to Senate Republicans. The incentive to support Trump outweighs the incentive to reopen the government. So the proper poles in this fight are what they have been: between the Democrats and the president. Yet anti-Trump Republicans continue to hope that Senate Republicans will come to senses. They haven’t fully accepted the party’s long decline and sudden fall into irreversible bad faith.

Meanwhile, the Democrats can’t trust Trump. Between the time he announced his “compromise” and the time a bill was submitted to the Senate, someone, probably Stephen Miller, added a provision that would drastically change immigration law.

It bars Central American immigrants from applying for asylum if they do not dome through a “port of entry.” That undermines the whole point of asylum seeking, as it forces people fleeing for their lives to stay where they are fearing for their lives.

So even if the Democrats accepted Trump’s “compromise,” they’d have been tricked into voting for something they would not knowingly support. This issue of trust does not get the attention it deserves from the news media, especially CNN. Legitimate news media is increasing pressure on the Democrats to strike a deal with hostage-takers, frauds and saboteurs. The Republicans, meanwhile, feel no such pressure, because mainstream complaints bolster their image in right-wing media.

There’s yet another reason not to trust the president. If Trump doesn’t get what he wants, he might leak information jeopardizing your welfare and safety. That’s what happened last week. Few of us saw it, because the news media’s attention was largely on a Buzzfeed article drawing a beeline between Trump and the commission of federal crimes. Yet in a very real sense, the president put a target on Nancy Pelosi’s back. That’s as criminally minded as holding 800,000 federal workers to ransom.

Pelosi, citing the shutdown, asked Trump to postpone the State of the Union address. In response, Trump, citing the shutdown, did two things: One, he canceled Pelosi’s scheduled military flight. Two, he leaked that she was flying to Afghanistan. Even after making arrangements to fly commercial, she couldn’t due to the fact that you never, ever, say you’re flying into a war zone until you have gotten there. Otherwise, you’re giving terrorists—ISIS, the Taliban, other bad actors—a plum target to shoot at.

That Trump put a target on Pelosi’s back means he’s manifestly unfit to be president. But impeachment and removal are not my focus here. My focus is on this president’s giving the opposition a lunch menu of legitimate reasons to refuse bargaining with him. If the Democrats comprise, even that compromise in on favorable terms to them, they risk rewarding Trump’s unethical, dangerous and cowardly behavior.

To recap: the Republicans don’t have reason to budge. The Democrats don’t have reason to budge. That leaves Trump, who says he’s not budging. But that position is as reliable as everything else he says, which is to say worthless. He is most likely the one who to break before the others do. His job approval is below 40 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. Support from white men without college degrees fell seven points since the shutdown began, according to Marist. It’s not going to get better.

Tom Brokaw said this morning the Democrats are as much to blame as the Republicans. That’s the kind of pressure Democrats face from traditional media, even if people like Brokaw have no idea what they are talking about. If Brokaw and others (I’m looking at you, Chris Cuomo) were serious about fully informing the republic, they’d stop with the one-dimensional both-sides nonsense. No sane person with integrity should encourage the Democrats to comprise with a criminal mind.

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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