News Sips 3/30: Government Shutdown Looming, Xi to Mar-a-Lago, Bathroom Bill Flushed, and Immigration Pause Paused Again
Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the March 30, 2017 edition:
One month from today, unless something changes, the Federal Government will shut down. Cue the panic in the streets and federal contractors rushing to buy milk, eggs, and toilet paper. This seemingly annual-ish event is a result of increasing Federal debt and totally uncontrolled Federal spending. The “debt ceiling” is set by Congress. If Congress doesn’t take action to increase the debt ceiling, the Treasury won’t have the power to borrow and only a skeleton Federal government will be able to function. These type of shutdowns have occurred before and, while fraught with political peril, are often more hype than damaging to institutions.
The big problem (and one that hasn’t really changed in a few years—actually it’s amplified recently) is that the Republicans, in whose hands raising the debt ceiling now rests, really can’t seem to cobble together a governing coalition within their caucus to do, well, almost anything. Budgetary fights and a revolt ousted former Speaker John Boehner and pushback from conservatives scrapped a repeal of the onerous and failing Affordable Care Act.
It’s a bit unfair to merely lay all of the problems over getting things done in Congress at the feet of a few dozen House members (and a couple of Senators) who want to make the perfect the enemy of the marginally-okay. In fact, most of the people in America who elect Republicans would prefer that Republicans govern in a conservative manner. The House Freedom Caucus as well as a loose-knit cabal of libertarian-leaning Senators have decided that, given that Republicans are in power, they should govern in a manner that they promised the American people. However, not everyone in the Party is terribly interested in governing based on ideology. Rather, leadership in the House and Senate, call it “swampy” if you must, is more interested in the pragmatic method of governing. In their view, keeping the proverbial lights on in the Capitol is more important than forcing the government to shut down to prove a point over decades of rampant government overreach. Their opponents would respond that the “grand gestures” of forcing the government to shut down (or nuking a healthcare repeal that’s not-really-a-repeal) are the only times when they can play a strong hand for reform. The obvious push-back on that is that the pragmatists feel that this taints the GOP brand to average Americans who tend to get fairly ornery when Social Security checks don’t show up on time (again, this is a bit of fear-mongering, but be ready to hear that line if the HFC resists raising the ceiling).
It’s important that conservatives and Republicans realize that both “sides” of this debate are making some pretty compelling points. People elected Donald Trump for the precise reason that they were tired of business-as-usual in Washington DC. However, they also didn’t choose to go with a hard-conservative ideologue. There were plenty of other candidates in the GOP primary who had better conservative credentials than a former Democrat who could barely fake that he’s read the Bible. That’s not a slight on Mr. Trump’s passion, but rather, no one was being conned by Donald Trump. If anything, Mr. Trump was completely and brutally honest with people, and people appreciated that. So, what does that mean for the government shutdown that’s looming? Republicans really can’t afford to bungle it. Failing to avert a shutdown would be tantamount to announcing that Republicans are wholly incapable of governing. There’s also a strong chance that, given the failure of the Obamacare repeal initiative, it would cost Paul Ryan his job as Speaker.
Expect Republican leaders to make some concessions on spending to hard-line conservatives. The fact is, folks like Ryan are not opposed to fiscal restraint. However, when you’re in the driver’s seat of the massive federal bureaucracy, trying to make a turn takes a lot of work. Again, we’d still like to give the Speaker the benefit of the doubt.
Xi to Mar-a-Lago
The President of China, Xi Jinping will meet with President Trump at the Mar-a-Lago “Southern White House” on April 6. Given the shared economic interest and geopolitical rivalry of the United States and China, this will be the most important meeting that the President has had so far since taking office. President Trump has already hosted the Prime Minister of Japan at the Mar-a-Lago resort, so there’s already some precedent for using the venue for entertaining. This will, of course, draw scorn from the left (what doesn’t these days, though). However, as a counterpoint, Mar-a-Lago is Trump in his element. It’s familiar space. It’s comfortable space. We would like to have the President in as familiar a surrounding as possible for his meetings with major world leaders.
This isn’t just a big meeting for Donald Trump, who has garnered both ire and praise from the Chinese government on a whole host of issues since he became the Republican nominee for President. Rather, President Xi is facing a major test of his leadership later this year when the Communist Party will hold its Party Conference to decide the direction that China will take in the future. This will also see a rise of a new class of Chinese leaders and a departure of some of the old-guard. China stands at a tipping point on a number of critical issues including economic stagnation, competition from Southeast Asia and India, military brinksmanship over (inter alia) the South China Sea, its bellicose North Korean puppet state, and the call for democratizing reforms. Xi needs a win or at least to be able to show détente with the United States.
As the visit gets closer, there will likely be a lot more reporting on the relationship between the United States and China as well as the way in which President Trump’s personality will interact with President Xi.
Bathroom Bill Flushed
North Carolina looks set to scrap the infamous “bathroom bill” that forced transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their biological sex rather than their gender identity. This is a positive step forward for North Carolina and shows the power that business has to change policy. Already, the state has lost millions in conferences deciding not to come to North Carolina and institutions like the NCAA and NBA pulling out major events.
The “government as arbiter of morality” issue on the Right is slowly beginning to recede in many parts of the country as Republicans focus more on the issues of jobs and the economy rather than social issues. For the most part, the North Carolina law was more about political theater on both sides than religious conviction or the (non-existent) crimes apparently being committed by people using opposite-sex bathrooms and locker-rooms. The fact is that people were getting on just fine without government interfering. However, once government stuck its nose into the issue under some notion that it was a moral guide for folks, everything exploded. This, one should think, was the goal on the Left: create a wedge issue and make Republicans look like the bad guys, turn out angry voters, rinse, repeat.
This strategy worked (sort of). Democrats were able to oust the Governor of North Carolina (though he was doing other things that voters didn’t really care for). However, Donald Trump won the State and Senator Burr retained his seat. While the national dialogue over the protections afforded to transgender individuals is ongoing, the issue has not gotten the amount of concern as other social issue crusades. Rather, given the President Trump expressed his ambivalence on this issue and said it’s a states’ rights issue, there hasn’t been a galvanizing of raucous support on either “side” of the issue. Sure, there are folks who get angry in comment sections on the internet, but, for the most part, cooler-heads look set to prevail: let people live their lives as long as they aren’t breaking the law.
Immigration Pause Paused Again
Overnight, the federal judge in Hawaii who has held-up President Trump’s revised pause on immigration from six nations that have proven incapable of making sure that people leaving their countries are not a threat to the United States, decided to leave the restraining order he had previously issued in place. In the latest setback for the Administration’s efforts to keep Americans safe from terrorism, Judge Derrick Watson, an Obama appointee, decided that the government would be enjoined from suspending new visas from travelers and halting America’s resettlement of refugees.
The extension of the “pause of the pause” was no unexpected, given the partisan politics and judge shopping undertaken by liberal activists. The case is likely to proceed back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco where the first iteration of the immigration pause was rejected by the Court. The Trump team has argued that the revised pause that is currently under scrutiny by several courts around the country complies to-the-letter with the concerns of the Ninth Circuit in the original case. The Administration reasons that, if the Ninth Circuit blocks the current version of the Order that would confirm that the Court is merely playing politics with the safety of Americans. Legal scholars have differing opinions on the larger issue, but there is broad consensus that the President has near-plenary authority to restrict immigration for national security reasons. Courts holding otherwise reference statements the President made when he was merely a candidate for office. This is a wholesale departure from any legal precedent. One of the major reasons that these theories are even being entertained is because of the locations and judges selected by left-wing activists to get favorable rulings.
This tangle underscores the need to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Despite the fact that Judge Gorsuch has, rightly, declined to answer any question with regard to how he may rule if the issue came before the Court, he, nevertheless, would likely be a swing vote to decide the matter in the nation’s highest court. The current ideological makeup of the Court, and the fact that there are an even number of justices, indicate that, without Judge Gorsuch, the matter may not be able to be effectively resolved. The Senate Judiciary Committee will likely vote on April 3 on advancing Judge Gorsuch’s nomination to the full Senate. There will then be a debate over the precedent of the Senate with respect to filibusters of Supreme Court nominations. Despite the looming change to precedent, it is expected that Judge Gorsuch should be confirmed in early-to-mid April.
Of course, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.