Trump, GOP seek to shift blame for shutdown to Pelosi

White House officials and congressional Republicans are seeking to blame the partial government shutdown on Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as the standoff over funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border appears likely to extend into the new year.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in an interview Friday said Pelosi can’t move on the wall because of the Jan. 3 floor vote for House Speaker, repeating an argument first made by President Trump in an Oval Office meeting with Democrats.

{mosads}“She cannot be seen by her party as being weak on negotiating with Donald Trump,” Mulvaney said on Fox News Friday, suggesting that if Pelosi bargained with Trump, it could cost her votes from liberals.  

The White House is also seeking to portray a split between Pelosi and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who leads Democrats in the Senate.

“The vice president and I met with Leader Schumer last Saturday, the last time we sat down face to face, and my gut was that he was really interested in doing a deal and coming to some sort of compromise,” Mulvaney said. “But the more we’re hearing this week is that it’s Nancy Pelosi who’s preventing that from happening.” 

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made similar comments Friday on CBS News.

“Nancy Pelosi is only looking to protect her Speakership and not protect our borders,” she said. “And that’s why she’s unwilling to negotiate with us and unwilling to make any type of a deal.”

Casting Pelosi as the problem in the debate comes straight out of a GOP playbook that Republicans tried to use to protect their majority in the House. During the midterm campaign, the GOP tied Democratic candidates across the country to Pelosi.

The strategy didn’t appear to work in November, as Republicans lost the House majority and Democrats gained 40 seats.

As for the shutdown fight, it no longer appears that Pelosi has much to worry about when it comes to the Speakership vote, which she is widely expected to win handily after making a deal that limits her tenure to another four years.

And Trump has hampered any effort to shift blame on the shutdown to Democrats with his Oval Office remarks in which he told Schumer and Pelosi that he would be “proud” to shut down the government over border security.

“It’s hard to pin the shutdown on anyone when the president said ‘let’s call it the Trump shutdown,’ ” said Doug Heye, who worked for then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) during the 2013 government shutdown.

Trump has also sought to shift blame to Democrats by telling voters that while he is in Washington, Democrats are out of town.

Pelosi responded quickly at the Dec. 11 White House meeting when Trump said it was not “easy for her to talk right now” about the wall because of the leadership fight.

“Please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory,” she said.

Pelosi also said at the meeting that Trump didn’t have the votes for wall funding in the House, though later House Republicans were able to pass a bill with $5.7 billion of funding for the wall and border security. Passage of that bill has allowed the GOP to cast Senate Democrats as blocking the measure.

GOP strategists say there is value in the White House trying to exploit potential divisions in the House Democratic Caucus that could cause issues for Pelosi and Schumer.

“What Trump is ultimately trying to do is paint the narrative that in leadership Pelosi will have to fight her own Democratic House caucus more than Republicans,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “In other words, the chaos in government is being spearheaded by Democrats not Trump.”

Early in the process of negotiating border security funding, Schumer and Pelosi were in somewhat different places. Schumer had floated advancing a Senate-committee passed bill that included $1.6 billion for fencing, while Pelosi said that plan was unacceptable. 

Schumer subsequently backed off the $1.6 billion figure, and he and Pelosi now appear to be united on government funding legislation that maintains the fiscal 2018 level for fencing of $1.3 billion.

A Senate Democratic aide said that Schumer and Pelosi have been constantly in contact and are on the same page on the strategy for the shutdown and on a continuing resolution next year.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said that Democrats are united against a border wall, and that there hasn’t been any direct White House outreach to Pelosi since Trump called her shortly after the Dec. 11 meeting.

“Democrats have made it clear that, given that the president has changed his position so many times, we would not consider any offers from the White House that the president has not publicly endorsed,” Hammill said. “While we await the president’s public proposal, Democrats have made it clear that, under a House Democratic majority, we will vote swiftly to reopen government on day one.”

House Democrats have a host of legislative and oversight priorities that they want to tackle next year. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, said Thursday that Democrats can move forward both on reopening the government and other issues next year.

“We are going to move forward on all fronts,” he said. 

Tags Appropriations Border wall Budget Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Eric Cantor Mexico Mick Mulvaney Nancy Pelosi Shutdown

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