Key players in the US government shutdown: who came out on top?


Both parties claim to have emerged from negotiations with the upper hand, but did they? Here’s how leaders on either side fared

Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington

A three-day shutdown of the federal government came to an end on Monday, as lawmakers in Washington reached a compromise that funded the government through 8 February and reauthorized a popular children’s health insurance program.

Left uncertain was the status of the nearly 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children. Democrats, who initially demanded that any spending measure be accompanied by protections for the so-called Dreamers, ultimately relented to Republican leaders in the Senate.

The tactics paved the way for a potentially protracted battle in February, with both parties claiming to have emerged from the shutdown with the upper hand.

Quick guide

All you need to know about the US government shutdown

Mitch McConnell

It all ended with a promise from Mitch McConnell: the Senate majority leader reached an agreement with his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, to move to a debate on immigration after reopening the government.

But to skeptics, McConnell’s commitment was hardly ironclad – nor did it provide any assurance that the Senate would actually pass legislation granting legal status to Dreamers. Immigration advocates were quick to call into question whether McConnell could be trusted to keep his word, a line that was echoed by progressive Democrats.

“It would be foolhardy to believe that he made a commitment,” Kamala Harris, a senator from California, said of McConnell.

That’s not to say McConnell won’t be under pressure to keep his word. Jeff Flake, a senator from Arizona, warned of the potential ramifications if Republican leaders were to operate in bad faith.

“A commitment made this public, with this much fanfare, that’s kind of hard to back away from just three weeks from now,” Flake said.

Chuck Schumer

When Schumer met privately with the president on Friday in the hopes of averting a shutdown, the Senate minority leader appeared to be willing to give away the store.

Schumer offered him everything from funding for a border wall to levels of defense spending higher than what the Trump administration requested. The White House nonetheless rejected the top Democrats’ offer, paving the way for Republicans to brand the impasse the “Schumer shutdown”.

Initial polling does not place blame solely at the feet of Democrats. But progressives and immigration advocates appeared to sour on Schumer for failing to secure more than a pledge from McConnell on immigration.

That could soon change, if Schumer’s calculation proves true that the onus is now on Republicans to either declare their support for Dreamers or be blamed for exposing the young immigrants to deportation.

But for now, Schumer was left to weather the storm, which included the liberal group Credo dubbing him “the worst negotiator in Washington”.

Donald Trump

The president was largely missing from negotiations during the shutdown, which occurred on the first anniversary of his inauguration. After meeting with Schumer hours before the shutdown, Trump left the matter to congressional leaders.

Barring a few phone calls over the weekend, and the occasional tweet, Trump showed an unusual lack of interest in what a deal to reopen the government might ultimately look like. The president did, however, signal he was going to take a hard line in the pending debate over Dreamers, issuing a statement decrying “very unfair illegal immigration”.

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Whether Trump will more actively engage in the next round of negotiations remains to be seen. But in a parting shot from the Senate floor as the shutdown neared its end, Schumer made it clear Trump had missed an opportunity: “The great deal-making president sat on the sidelines.”

Paul Ryan

With the shutdown triggered by gridlock in the Senate, the House speaker was somewhat removed from the spectacle.

After advancing a short-term extension last week to avert a shutdown, Republican leaders adjourned the House in a bid to jam the Senate. And they succeeded.

The only concession Ryan was forced to make was accepting a shorter deadline than what he proposed. (The stopgap measure funds the government through 8 February, as opposed to 16 February.) Ryan also reportedly made undisclosed promises to the House Freedom Caucus, but thus far the conservative group has mostly fallen in line behind the speaker.

The question remains how Ryan, who claims to support enshrining protections for Dreamers into law, will navigate immigration in the coming weeks. If the Senate does succeed in passing a compromise, the pressure will escalate on Ryan to bring the bill up for a vote, potentially igniting the fury of immigration hardliners in the House.

Nancy Pelosi

With Democrats holding sufficiently less influence in the House, Pelosi was left largely unscathed from the politics of the shutdown. The minority leader backed Democrats’ strategy to oppose any spending measure that did not extend protections to Dreamers, but she was hardly the face of it.

Unlike in the Senate, Republicans do not require Democratic votes to pass legislation in the House. As a result, Pelosi was able to distance herself from Schumer’s deal with McConnell, telling reporters on Monday: “I don’t see that there’s any reason – I’m speaking personally and hearing from my members – to support what was put forth.”

Pelosi’s role has thus consisted of rallying her troops, which she sought to do on Monday as the shutdown came to a close. In a letter to members, Pelosi wrote: “While today’s vote ends the Trump Shutdown, it does not diminish our leverage


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