This is, of course, not a sentiment lawmakers are eager to share on the record. But in interviews this week with congressional staffers on both sides of the aisle (whom I granted anonymity in exchange for candor), I heard the same morbid idea expressed again and again.
The basic theory—explained to me between weary sighs and defeated shrugs—goes like this: Washington is at an impasse that looks increasingly unbreakable. President Donald Trump is dug in; so is Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Democrats have public opinion on their side, but the president is focused on his conservative base. For a deal to shake loose in this environment, it may require a failure of government so dramatic, so shocking, as to galvanize public outrage and force the two parties back to the negotiating table.
In these interviews, I heard an array of macabre hypotheticals—from airplane crashes to food-safety scares, TSA strikes to terrorist incidents. But the one theme that ran through every conversation was a sense that the current political dynamics won’t change until voters get a lot angrier.
One senior Republican Senate staffer told me he could envision the shutdown lasting until March, when federal funding dries up for food stamps—a crisis that would be hard for Washington to ignore. “Not only are there going to be a lot of hungry families,” he said, “but there are going to be a lot of Walmarts and Safeways and Krogers that are missing revenue.”
President Donald Trump said he will make a “major” announcement on Saturday about the border and ongoing government shutdown.
I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M., live from the @WhiteHouse.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019
The president did not provide any further details on what he would discuss on what is set to be the 28th day of the partial government shutdown. The White House press team offered no further guidance to reporters when asked about the president’s tweet late Friday.
The shutdown is the result of Congress’s inability to pass a short-term funding bill for the government that Trump would be willing to sign.
The president has insisted that such a bill contain more than $5 billion in funding to build a border wall. Democrats have refused to agree with that demand.
Trump cited the shutdown when he canceled his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland next week. He also called off sending his delegation to the meeting, “out of consideration” of the 800,000 workers not receiving pay because of the shutdown. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump wanted his team to be available to “assist as needed.”