Give Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner credit. Not only did he go rogue – shocking in its own right – he went rogue at just the right moment.
I mean, Gardner couldn’t have had any idea that just one day after becoming the first Senate Republican to say publicly that the shutdown must end with or without Donald Trump’s wall, Trump would tell Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in a White House meeting that if he doesn’t get his wall, the shutdown could last “months or even years.”
He certainly had no idea that Trump would hold a Rose Garden press-conference ramblethon during which he would say, almost in passing, he was considering declaring a national emergency to build the wall without congressional approval. For those who worry about democracy dying under Trump, this won’t help you sleep tonight. Neither will learning the powers that any president can actually summon in an emergency.
This emergency would presumably be about all those terrorists/Middle Easterners Trump likes to cite crossing at the border. And yet the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism wrote in July of 2017 – during Trump’s tenure – that it had no information of “any member of a terrorist group” crossing the border with Mexico.
Maybe Gardner could have guessed – but only because it’s Trump, who is rarely constrained by the facts – that Trump would make the case that many of the 800,000 federal workers going without pay were more than happy to do so if it meant helping Trump resolve what he calls the crisis on the southern border. Meanwhile, CNN reports that hundreds of unpaid TSA airport screeners called in sick last Friday.
If the shutdown goes much longer, your tax refund could be delayed.
Did anyone bother to think of these ramifications? There is a national emergency. It’s called Trump. The question is, what will Senate Republicans do about it?
Susan Collins sort of followed in Gardner’s footsteps, also calling for ending the shutdown, but not nearly as starkly as Gardner did. And Gardner made his case while Mitch McConnell, whom Gardner tends to meekly follow, has very publicly refused to play any kind of role in resolving the shutdown.
If you want to see Gardner on the point, Kyle Clarke had the interview on 9News. Gardner seemed a little, well, nervous. You can’t blame him. He has spent two years getting back into Trump’s favor after calling him a buffoon during the campaign. For days, Gardner had been dodging reporters who wanted to ask him about the shutdown, but when he finally made his statement, he then had no choice but to explain it.
And that’s where it got weird. Gardner, ever the good soldier, not only bucked Trump, he also praised Nancy Pelosi, who has replaced Hillary Clinton as the GOP’s favorite bogeywoman, although Elizabeth Warren and Breakfast-Club-dancing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are also in the running. Gardner’s praise for Pelosi – he twice cited her House package on re-opening the government – is so far removed from the Republican playbook that he might as well have been quoting from Noam Chomsky.
Not that Gardner has much choice here. If he wants to be re-elected in 2020 in a state in which voters have profoundly rejected Trump at every opportunity, he has to put some distance between himself and the president. No wonder he’s nervous.
How far is Gardner willing to go? He’s got a test right now. Will he say anything about Trump’s national-emergency threat? His lack of concern for government workers missing paychecks? His stated willingness to let a shutdown go on for years? If Gardner wants to distance himself from Trump, that’s where he has to go – someplace really rogue.
Meanwhile, Gardner’s pal Pelosi introduced an anti-corruption, voter-reform bill on the second day of her historic second tour as House speaker. The Senate will never hear this bill – just as McConnell has promised never to allow the Senate to vote on the House-passed end-the-shutdown bill. But these are the kinds of battles that will be fought between the Republican Senate and Democratic House, where Pelosi, when she’s not meeting with Trump, is busily tamping down colorful talk from Dem newcomers about impeachment.
I’m pretty sure impeachment is hardly Trump’s biggest problem now. I don’t think Bob Mueller’s Russia probe is Trump’s biggest problem now either. If Trump is truly willing to allow a shutdown that lasts for months, he is actively daring anxious Republicans to join the resistance. What I mean is, once you lose Cory Gardner, even if just on one issue, you’re in danger of losing anyone.
Mike Littwin is a longtime Colorado journalist and a columnist for The Colorado Independent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.