If Donald Trump is looking for a new line of work once they broom him out of the Oval Office, he should strongly consider becoming a Democratic Party strategist. At present, he’s the best one in town, and I’m not at all sure he knows why. Imagine what he could accomplish if he really applied himself.
Wait, right. Not happening. Too bad; anyone who can squeeze Mitch McConnell’s shoes like this should be on somebody’s payroll. The best part? Trump’s partner in all this is no lesser light than democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.
It all started with two pieces of legislation that Trump tried to blow up. He vetoed the Defense Authorization bill ostensibly because of his love for Confederate-named bases and his hatred for his internet enemies, but his motives likely ran deeper. The defense bill carries provisions that make it harder to set up shell companies and launder money. If Trump were in the baking business, this would be like outlawing dough.
The other bill, the combination stimulus/government funding bill, got the Trump treatment immediately after Congress finally reached an agreement on the terms. They stapled the stimulus bill to the government funding bill to ensure Trump would sign it; failure to do so would lead to a quadruple calamity — no stimulus checks, no unemployment benefits, no eviction protection and a federal government gone dark in the middle of a pandemic — that everyone assumed the president would want to avoid.
Everyone assumed wrong. Trump denounced as “disgraceful” the very bill his own Treasury Secretary Mnuchin had negotiated, demanded $2,000 direct payments instead of the $600 in the deal, and told Congress to get rid of the “pork” in the legislation that is actually a laundry list of items his own administration requested be included in the package.
The needle screeched off the record, and for the entire Christmas holiday week, the nation waited to see what Trump would do. Finally, with much grumbling and a few demands that McConnell resolutely ignored, he signed the stimulus/shutdown bill into law, and everyone took a breath.
And then, Speaker Nancy Pelosi pounced. Seeing a king-sized opportunity to paint Republicans as a bunch of parsimonious Scrooges, Pelosi brought a stand-alone bill called the CASH Act to a vote that set the direct stimulus payment at the $2,000 Trump had insisted on. The bill passed with a hefty bipartisan margin on Monday.
Trump cared not a fig for that money or the people who needed it; he wanted some attention and he got it. Pelosi and the Democrats, however, saw an opportunity not only to get that needed money to the people, but also to paint the GOP in the worst possible light on the eve of the all-important Senate runoff elections in Georgia. The bill is already affecting those races; both GOP incumbents have publicly declared their support for the $2,000 payments.
As a bit of political theater, it was beautiful. If it wanted to actually have an impact, however, it needed help. There is no living reason for McConnell to allow a vote on the CASH Act; he has a signed stimulus bill in hand, ready to go. The House’s two-grand bill was destined to die a solitary death in the loneliest place in Washington: The far corner of the majority leader’s desk.
Enter the defense bill veto, which the House successfully voted to override on Monday by a comfortable margin. The override now goes to the Senate. These are incredibly perilous political waters for Republicans: Behind curtain #1 is a stinging rebuke of their president, and behind curtain #2 is the failure to pass a military funding bill, something no good Republican wants on their resume.
… and then Bernie Sanders came down the mountain. The Vermont senator is threatening to filibuster the veto override unless McConnell allows a straight up-or-down vote on the CASH Act. Classic pincer move, and it’s all thanks to Trump.
“This week on the Senate floor, Mitch McConnell wants to vote to override Trump’s veto of the $740 billion defense funding bill and then head home for the New Year,” Sanders said in a statement. “I’m going to object until we get a vote on legislation to provide a $2,000 direct payment to the working class. Let me be clear: If Senator McConnell doesn’t agree to an up or down vote to provide the working people of our country a $2,000 direct payment, Congress will not be going home for New Year’s Eve. Let’s do our job.”
It does not sound like he is bluffing, and now Trump is getting all kinds of attention in all the wrong ways. “That leaves Mr. McConnell with a tough call of barring a vote as Democrats bang away in TV ads in Georgia against GOP incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Or he can hold a vote, which would split the GOP caucus and upset fiscally conservative voters,” fumed a Wall Street Journal editorial. “Mr. Trump’s narcissism isn’t news. But if Republicans lose the two Georgia seats and their majority, Republicans across the country should know to thank Mr. Trump for their 2021 tax increase.”
Scenarios like this do not come along very often. McConnell and the GOP are in a very tight box today. Every decision is fraught with peril, and they can thank their president for the lot of it. Trump’s veto, combined with his eleventh-hour meddling with the stimulus bill, created this seamless opportunity, and the Democrats shot the gap like a party that actually knows what it’s doing. It’s been a while.
McConnell is expected to address these issues at noon Eastern today. He is going to need some magic to tunnel out of this one. If he loses his leadership seat because these shenanigans tip Georgia’s races into the Democratic column, I might laugh for a thousand years. That’s what you get, what you always get, for trusting Donald Trump.