It’s Not Just the Longest Shutdown Ever

Donald Trump is also the first president to weaponize a government closure in an attempt to strong-arm policy concessions from his opponents.

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

Eight hundred thousand government workers aren’t getting paid. Garbage and human waste is piling up at national parks. TSA officers are threatening to stop showing up to work en masse, raising the specter that air travel (and the economy with it) could come to a standstill. Funding for the food-stamp program, on which more than 38 million Americans rely, will soon run out.

The nation is in the midst of the longest government shutdown in American history, and President Donald Trump is promising to keep it going for “months or even years” until he gets $5 billion to build a wall along the southern border.

Government shutdowns have become an inevitable part of life in Washington—they come and go like cherry blossoms and Metro fires. The federal bureaucracy, has, at least in part, closed its doors 14 times since the early 1980s. The overwhelming majority of those were fleeting closures spanning just a couple of days; only two others dragged on past the 10-day mark. Until now, the longest shutdown was a 21-day showdown between Bill Clinton and a Republican-led Congress.

But this shutdown isn’t just the longest—it’s different in another meaningful way. Trump is the first president to weaponize a government shutdown in an attempt to strong-arm policy concessions from his opponents. Other long shutdowns have been incited by an antagonistic Congress trying to get the president to cave to its demands. This shutdown is the opposite. It’s led by the president, who is taking congressional Democrats and Republicans alike along for the ride. In a heated meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer heading into the shutdown, Trump admitted as much, saying, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security … I will be the one to shut it down.”

Since then, Trump has tried to shift blame to the Democrats, but Americans have been largely unconvinced. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that most people believe Trump and the Republicans are mainly responsible for the funding lapse. Meanwhile, the president has repeatedly said that he may circumvent Congress and get the funds for his wall by declaring a national emergency.