Harvey gives Trump a good excuse to walk back on his previous threats
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“Congress — I think Congress is going to make a comeback. I hope so, “ Donald Trump.

During his speech in Springfield, Missouri President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE expressed his hope and/or expectations that the U.S. House and Senate will get their act together. Washington is in need of some upbeat news and policy progress.

Congress already had a busy September lined up before Hurricane Harvey hit. In just twelve legislative days after it returns from its recess, Congress has to raise the debt ceiling so that America does not default and pass a spending bill to keep the government running.

Now it will also need to provide billions in disaster relief. For leaders in Congress, Harvey may provide an opening to get them out of the budget and debt ceiling mess. Maybe they can even try and convince Trump to let go of his demand that a budget bill has to include money for the border wall with Mexico.

Yet, as has been the case since Trump moved into the White House, moments of total bafflement keep piling up caused by White House malfunctioning and Trump’s constant tweets, false or deceptive claims and off-the-cuff remarks. I keep being reminded of quotes from people from that other, much more famous Springfield: the hometown of The Simpsons. When you watch the animated series’ Mayor Quimby you are reminded of President Trump more often than you would like.  

For example, Quimby says to Homer Simpson who is driving the mayor’s limo, “Just remember... you represent the office of the mayor. So always comport yourself in a manner befitting — quick. Honk at that broad!”

The Simpsons is full of situations and quotes that are eerily applicable to today’s political atmosphere in Washington. Homer Simpson would not be out of place in Trump’s Fake News rants with his wise insight,  “Facts are meaningless; you can use facts to prove anything that's remotely true!”

Fact is that even the plotlines of The Simpsons are sometimes almost identical to real Washington life. Like the The Coming to Homerica episode, which first aired in 2009, in which Springfield tries preventing illegal immigration by building a wall between Springfield and the Norwegian-descendant town of 'Ogdenville.' The episode closely resembles Trump's immigration plan.

With the deadlines for the debt ceiling and budget nearing, Trump has threatened to torpedo progress on these two topics if Congress doesn’t make funds available to start building the wall. Even before Harvey struck, it was unlikely that Washington would let government come to a standstill and let the U.S. become known as an untrustworthy debtor.

Yet, at a press conference last week, Trump promised rapid action from Congress to provide many billions of dollars in disaster relief, while in the same breath the president also said, “I think it has nothing to do with it [funds for the wall], really. I think this is separate.” But it most likely won’t be. The hurricane may end up providing a perfect excuse not to fund the wall.

Because of so many Americans in need of assistance after their lives have literally been blown away, there is probably no sane politician who would consider voting against a bill that combines a continuing resolution to prevent the government from shutting down, a raise of the debt ceiling lifting it past the 2018 elections and aid for hurricane stricken parts of the country. That’s why Republican leaders in the House and Senate will most likely opt for this legislative route.

Even an analyst at the very conservative, small government, deficit-obsessed Heritage Foundation said, “There’s a huge amount of political pressure. You can’t vote against this.” This would apply to the fiscal hawks in the hard-line Freedom Caucus  and also to President Trump.

Harvey provides Trump the perfect excuse to walk back from his threats without losing face. Moreover, Trump is eager to be seen as a competent manager in his first big test. In return from caving in now, Trump will probably make sure he will get a billion here and there for his beloved wall folded in bills that will come up in the next quarters. That will provide him with the cover to claim that he is keeping to his campaign pledge.

All in all, there are two important things to remember:

 In 2015, 88 percent of Americans said government has an important role to play in responding to natural disasters, and 79 percent said it was doing a good job at that. Politicians would be foolish to squander this goodwill.

Trump’s wall is very unpopular. The border wall is opposed by 60-65 percent of the public. The idea of shutting down the government to force funding for the wall is rejected by a margin of 61 to 28, and Trump voters support it by only 50 to 40. So Trump would be wise to keep his hard-core base happy with playing lip service to the wall and building a fence here and there without putting too much effort in it and allocating too much money for it.

For now, the chances of Washington causing panic in the markets within a month or so have decreased. The smart money's on no shutdown, but it’s possible that the parties will only agree to keep the government running until the end of this year which will present the financial markets with another shutdown risk in December. However, I think it’s a tad more likely that an omni bill would keep government open until after the midterms in 2018.

Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that the Washington circus will no doubt manage to surprise observers and the markets again in a way that will remind everybody of the Sea Captain in The Simpsons saying after a boat he's trying to sell to Homer sinks, “Arr, I don't know what I'm doin'.”

Andy Langenkamp political commentator, who specialises in assessing the repercussions for the financial markets of economic and geopolitical events. He is a senior researcher at ECR Research, which provides its clients with advice and publications on global financial markets and politics.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.