Opinion

Did Pelosi Beat Trump Over Shutdown? Not really | Opinion

The government’s open again. According to folks in the know, that’s because Trump blinked while Pelosi stood firm. Huzaah! The Resistance has won, the Wall is gone, and the president will be out in two years. And if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.

For those who’ve had trouble following the narrative through the ruckus, the president’s decision to sign the bill temporarily funding government agencies paralyzed after they ran out of money was merely the end of Act One. There’s one, probably two more acts to go—and the shutdown scenario has not been written out of the script.

Even now, as congressional negotiators are starting to talk about what to do, Speaker Pelosi is holding firm on no funding for a wall, a position at odds with voters in the swing congressional districts that flipped from Trump to the Democrats in last November’s election. A poll conducted in 10 of those districts by Public Opinion Strategies for the Republican National Committee reported on by the Washington Examiner found a plurality of those surveyed approve of president’s job performance, 49 percent to 48 percent, support the border wall and believe Pelosi should have accepted his immigration deal to end the partial government shutdown.

And it’s not just key voters: Pelosi’s newfound recalcitrance contradicts positions on border security taken previously by former President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and, indeed, Pelosi herself, back before Trump made the wall a centerpiece of his campaign for president.

Meanwhile, the rumors are flying that much of the Congress may be willing to give Trump money for “fencing” similar to what already exists on the southern border. Pelosi even acknowledged Thursday the president could call it a wall if he wanted to, or so said the afternoon tip sheets journalists depend upon to know what’s really going on. It’s sounds like the endgame is beginning to take shape, one in which both sides will be able to tell their base they got more than they gave up and, overall, it’s a win.

And a win for both sides is exactly the way this is going to play out. That Trump was willing to back down at all, which does not seem as big a deal at week’s end as it was made to seem when it happened, is likely because GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 were reading the polls more closely than he had been. Six of them voted with the Democrats on a funding bill which, while enough to make a majority was not enough to win passage, because 60 votes were needed. Still, it sounded an alarm bell sufficiently loud for folks inside the White House to realize the tension needed to be reduced.

But Trump’s not the only one who blinked this week. California Sen. Kamala Harris, who wants to be the Democratic nominee in 2020, did a fast reversal on what a lot of people thought would be one of her signature issues: Medicare for all.

Medicare for all has become the party position in record time. It’s an onerous, expensive proposal that makes Obamacare look like the free market, but it’s become so popular, especially among millennials who are over 26 and now off Mom and Dad’s insurance, that it’s hard to see how any Democrat wins the 2020 nomination without embracing it.

Sen. Harris got the memo and, at a CNN Town Hall held shortly after she announced her presidential bid, wrapped herself around the idea in a big ole’ bear hug. She even went as far as to say she’d endorse the abolition of private health insurance as part of the deal.

Well, that may be the only way to make Medicare for All work, but it’s not a popular position with the voters. Allowing the private insurance market to continue to operate prevents healthcare from being well and truly socialized, just as the private option in Great Britain blocked the National Health Service from taking over everything.

Harris is right on the policy—as far as the government needing to be the only source of insurance for it to work, as the people who came up with the idea intend—but wrong on the politics. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports just 17 percent of voters support such a ban. Even among Democrats, only 23 percent like the idea, he says. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found support for Medicare for All drops to 37 percent if implementing it means the end of private insurance. So, the senator blinked, quickly revising her position to suggest she was open to some compromise, bringing her in line with other Democrats who are saying the private option must be preserved, at least for now.

Primary voters are different from those who cast ballots in the general election. More than anything else, those who vote in primaries tend to be ideologues who are put off by the realities of practical politics and tend to look at deal-makers as sell-outs. Harris’ original position is the one that will be adopted by purists, who may well try to hold her to it. Ironically, Trump demonstrated in 2016 how being boxed in by your own rash campaign promises can still get you over the finish line in the end. But judging by this week’s performance, it’s not clear if she has the sheer brazen gall for it. There’s probably a lot more blinking ahead.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics and the American experience for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and other publications. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Join the Discussion

Editor's Pick