Whose Fault Is the Shutdown? Who will America blame: Democrats, Republicans or President Trump? Seventeen pundits analyze what happened, and what comes next. ~ POLITICO STAFF (


After weeks of negotiating the federal budget, Republicans, Democrats and the White House couldn’t strike a deal but could agree on this: A government shutdown was a horrible idea, and if it happened, it would be the other side’s fault, 100 percent.

“If, God forbid, there’s a shutdown, it will fall on the majority leader’s shoulders and the president’s shoulders,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor. In the chamber next door, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “I ask the American people to understand this: The only people in the way of keeping the government open are Senate Democrats.” Over in the White House, President Trump tweeted, “The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all.”

So, whose fault is it really? And maybe more importantly, who will the American people blame? We asked strategists, analysts and operatives from both sides of the aisle to weigh in. Here is what they had to say. -Taylor Gee

“The public sees Republicans as the anti-government party. That idea is deeply imbedded.”
April Ponnuru is senior adviser at the Conservative Reform Network.

In the simplest and most direct terms, the Democrats are certainly to blame for the government shutdown. They decided to block, en masse, a continuation of government funding that included nothing with which they disagree. That is obstructionism, and it is irresponsible. But Republicans are to blame, too. They could have pushed to change the rules to allow for automatic funding resolutions to patch these very impasses, taking brinksmanship off the table. Such funding mechanisms could and should include fiscally conservative provisions that limit spending increases until Congress acts. Republicans have not shown much interest in such reforms. They are also to blame for not having moved expeditiously to forge a compromise on DACA. The president’s uninformed and inconstant leadership on this issue has not helped.

As to who will be blamed, I have every confidence it will be the Republicans. The public sees Republicans as the anti-government party. That idea is deeply imbedded in the public consciousness, as much as Democrats are viewed as the party of broadening the welfare state. No set of facts will change that perspective overnight.

“The shutdown rests at the feet of the GOP and it appears a majority of Americans agree”
Michael Steele is a former chairperson of the Republican National Committee.

Despite the rhetorical effort to paste Democrats with “Schumer’s Shutdown” and to redefine what constitutes majority control of the senate (“60”? Really?), the fact remains that this shutdown rests at the feet of the GOP and it appears a majority of Americans agree. I don’t like it. It certainly could have been avoided, but the President wound up negotiating against himself by taking a potential agreement off the table, leaving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to lament, “As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.” That put Republicans in the position to spin their wheels right into another government shutdown. Pitiful.

“Both rosters in Congress share the blame”
Scottie Nell Hughes is a political strategist and former surrogate for the Trump campaign.

Discussing the shutdown, a friend asked me this morning, “Can the Republicans tell the truth better than the Democrats can lie?” If Republicans can tell the truth, then the blame will correctly fall on the heads of the Democrats. If Republicans can’t get their message out, then the GOP will be once again be blamed for the shutdown.

In reality, both rosters in Congress share the blame. On one side, Democrats are willing to hold government funding hostage, and have prioritized 700,000 DACA recipients over American citizens and their children. Republicans, on the other hand, have continued to kick the budget down the alleyway by avoiding tough votes, and now the budget fight has erupted into the dumpster fire we are dealing with today.

It is a Democrat talking point that Republicans are in control, but in reality it takes 60 votes to pass any legislation in the Senate. The GOP only has 51 votes, calling for some give-and-take to occur in order for any budget to be passed. Asking the Democrats to support many of the immigration reforms they have already previously voiced support for, like building a barrier at the border (which Senators Obama, Schumer, Clinton and Biden voted for in 2006) and ending “chain migration” (see Senator Dick Durbin 2010), is a fair request.

“Immediate pain and a lasting hurt”
Liesl Hickey is a Republican strategist and partner at Ascent Media

Touching a hot stove hurts, a lot. And a burn is a terrible injury. The pain lingers for a long time. Shutting down the government is a lot like touching a hot stove–there is immediate pain and a lasting hurt.

Leadership in both parties know this. And the competition of who will endure the most pain and for the longest amount of time is more than touching the stove: it’s playing with fire. There are no good outcomes from a government shutdown. The party in power will get a fair amount of the blame but the party out of power will also walk away wounded. Democrats will have a lot of explaining to do for voting against funding the government. They might be explaining for a long time or a short time. But in politics, when you’re explaining, you’re losing. This will hurt for them, too.

“The president and his staff should head to Andrews Air Force Base with congressional leadership”
Mary Kate Cary is a senior fellow at UVA’s Miller Center for Public Affairs and a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She is co-host of the new podcast “Bipodisan.”

Moments like this explain why public approval ratings of Congress continue to be nearly as bad as those of used car salesmen. While there is plenty of blame to go around on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s pretty clear to most voters that it is the job of Congress to fund the government.

My suggestion is that President Trump take a page from my former boss, President George H.W. Bush, who ordered his White House staff and congressional leadership to move budget talks from Capitol Hill to Andrews Air Force Base. The 1990 budget deal came after 139 days of negotiations, including most of September in seclusion at Andrews. By October 1st, an agreement was reached, only to fail in Congress, then pass three weeks later on a second vote after a government shutdown. Moving the negotiations out of Capitol Hill and away from the press worked. President Trump and his staff should do the same, and head to Andrews with congressional leadership to work out a deal.

“Forget Stormy Daniels”
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest.

Donald Trump came to Washington wanting to be an original gangster but, to borrow from Ice-T, is starting to look like an everyday prankster. The shutdown of the government, which is wholly controlled by Republicans, will be registered by both political elites and the public as owned lock, stock and barrel by the GOP. It was Trump’s sudden lurch into creating a nightmare for the Dreamers that helped precipitate this fresh crisis, not to mention turning CHIP into a mere bargaining chip. As the old boy careens from one position to another, government by whimsy, you could even say, is starting to look increasingly flimsy. Forget Stormy Daniels. Soon Trump and the GOP will be soundly spanked by the electorate for their follies.

“More Americans want to keep the government open than protect dreamers”
Alice Stewart is former communications director for Ted Cruz’ presidential campaign.

When is a spending deal not a spending deal? When it’s a DACA deal.

Inability to reach a compromise on protecting dreamers is the reason we have a government shutdown. More Americans want to keep the government open than protect Dreamers. With that in mind, Congress should have addressed in their proper order: fund the government now, and address DACA by its March deadline. It’s shameful that our military and the Children’s Health Insurance Program will suffer due to the reality show known as Congress.

“Voters won’t remember the details, but they will remember the drama”
Patti Solis Doyle was a senior advisor to the 2008 Obama campaign

Trump asked for a deal, got a deal, and blew it up. It’s on him. The sad part is that Trump probably couldn’t tell you what actually happened. During his 45-minute open-press bipartisan meeting on DACA last week, he showed us all how little he understands the issue. With his Tweets, phone calls and Oval Office meetings, he changed positions repeatedly in just a few days, and he doesn’t even know it.

McConnell and Ryan share the blame. After eight years playing chicken with President Obama, they know the responsible way to avoid a shutdown is to work with Democrats. They put their faith – and their majorities – in Trump’s hands, relying on him to come up with a deal the Freedom Caucus and Senate Republicans could both support.

Voters won’t remember the details, but they will remember the drama. That’s bad for Republicans. Independents and Obama-Trump voters want Trump to drain the swamp, fix Congress, and get Washington working again, but Trump, Ryan and McConnell are failing in an ugly, reality TV sort of way.

“Own your vote, own your tactic”
Bill Scher is a contributing editor to Politico Magazine and co-host of the show “The DMZ.”

If you deny passage of a reasonable bill, one without poison pills, to keep the government open, then you are responsible for the resulting shutdown. Period. End of story.

Democrats appear to be under the impression that even though they cast the vast majority of the votes that caused the shutdown, Republicans will shoulder the blame because Republicans “control” the government. That’s nonsense. Democratic votes are required to get 60 votes in the Senate and so Democrats share responsibility for keeping the government open. Own your vote, own your tactic.

What’s going to happen when filibustering Democrats are asked, “Why did you not only shut the government down, but also filibustered a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, when 16 states are projected to run out of federal CHIP funds this month?” The response can’t be, don’t blame me and my vote. Nor can it be because Republicans played politics with CHIP before, it’s okay for Democrats to play politics now.

We shouldn’t play politics with DACA either, and the responsibility for throwing DACA into limbo is 100 percent on Donald Trump. But Democrats have agency. They can choose what is the best way to respond to that problem. Like toddler temper tantrums, past shutdowns have not solved problems, they just make new messes to clean up. Democrats can fight for DACA, which is currently in place thanks to a judge’s injunction staying Trump’s order, without holding the government hostage and shooting themselves in the foot.

“If you’re explaining, you’re losing”
Katie Packer Beeson is founding partner of Burning Glass Consulting

Everyone is responsible. Congressional Democrats and Republicans, who refuse to compromise for fear of facing tough primary challenges, are responsible because they were sent to Congress to find solutions. The President is responsible for not leading and providing a clear road map as to what he can agree to.

But the majority of Americans will blame Republicans. It’s tough to explain the filibuster. It’s not tough to explain that the GOP controls the House, the Senate and the White House. And if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

“Congress spends more time on the brink than Donald Trump does on the golf course”
Donna Brazile is former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.

This spending bill madness is ridiculous. Congress spends more time on the brink than Donald Trump does on the golf course.

“Donald Trump is like the arsonist who hopes you come home and blame the neighbors for the blaze”
Jesse Ferguson is former deputy national press secretary and senior spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Donald Trump created this crisis when he ended DACA and was caught cheer leading for a “good shutdown” earlier in the year. They’re going to try to obfuscate and play blame games but it won’t work when Republicans have complete control of Washington. Everyone knows this crisis could be averted if Republicans would pass a budget that didn’t give them power to eventually deport dreamers, but they refuse to give that up. Donald Trump is like the arsonist who hopes you come home and blame the neighbors for the blaze.

“Ultimately it is the president’s job to cajole Congress to do theirs”
Kori Schake is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

President Trump is to blame for the shutdown. It was he who submitted a budget manifestly incapable of becoming legislation; he whose policy priorities were insufficiently clear for others to rally around; he who failed to do the patient, arduous work of identifying trade space for greater support when it was clear his budget proposal was a non-starter; he who threw Molotov cocktails into negotiations among legislators. He owns this failure, and I think the public will affix that blame into him because ultimately it is the President’s job to cajole Congress to do theirs.

“Congressional Republicans will be the biggest losers. And they deserve to be”
Anita Dunn is managing director of SKDKnickerbocker and a former advisor to Barack Obama.

In government shutdowns, there are no winners, but there are bigger losers. Historically, Congress loses these battles against Presidents, who have more credibility and bigger microphones. But we haven’t had a situation where the same party controlled both the Presidency and Congress, so history’s utility is limited. The public will blame the Republican Congress first, President Trump second, Democrats in third, and everybody in the end.

But congressional republicans will be the biggest losers. And they deserve to be, for their failure to come to an agreement with the Democrats (who are in the Minority!) on DACA. What was it about “yes” they couldn’t accept last week in terms of a potential deal? And from a broader perspective, their account, and the President’s account, at the credibility bank is pretty overdrawn already, so it’s that much more difficult for Democrats to cut a deal that includes future votes. That’s why Congressional Republicans will get more of the blame and deserve more of the blame.

“Both parties have failed us”
Sophia A. Nelson is author of E Pluribus One: Reclaiming our Founders’ Vision for a United America.

This shutdown rests squarely on the shoulders of Congress. Both parties have failed us. All they do is fight, bicker and delay progress on our behalf. The Republicans control both chambers of Congress, so they will likely get the blame. And they deserve some of it for sure. But be clear that the Democrats should share the blame for not focusing on the budget as separate from the DACA debate, which needs to be addressed in comprehensive immigration reform.

According to a recent poll, just 25 percent of voters say they would like to see most representatives re-elected, and only 48 percent say they want their own representative to be re-elected. That is a huge shift.

“Voters will blame everyone, but Republicans in Congress the most”
Celinda Lake is a Democratic political strategist and pollster.

The blame rests with Donald Trump. That said, the voters will blame everyone, and congressional Republicans the most. That is because voters, whether they agree with Trump or not, think the president tries to get things done, andthey believe that Democrats want to keep government open because they like government. That same cannot be said for Republicans in Congress.

“A bipartisan deal is mandatory—and achievable—to keep the government open.”
Heather McGhee is president of Demos.

The consequences of a government shutdown, for any reason, fall squarely on the shoulders of President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress.

Republicans control every branch of government, yet they have completely failed to serve the interests of the majority of the American public, from ripping health care away from millions, to passing a tax scam that enriches the wealthiest at the cost of hurting working families, to now refusing to maintain protections for DACA recipients.

The government needs to be open to do its job, which is to serve the American people. A bipartisan deal is mandatory—and achievable—to keep the government open.

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