Just after 1 pm on Friday afternoon, a five-alarm Washington Post headline slashed through what had already been a noisy news day: “Congressional Leaders, Trump Reach Tentative Deal to Temporarily Reopen Government Without Wall Funds, According to Hill Officials.” The gist, later confirmed by Donald Trump himself in a rambling Rose Garden statement, was simple: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wins again.
The deal as struck is virtually identical to the one he was offered 35 days ago, and was essentially the clean continuing resolution defeated Thursday in the Senate (despite earning six Republican votes): Open the government for three weeks, period; no money for Trump’s border wall or anything else. After a day that saw air travel to LaGuardia and other East Coast airports disrupted because of staffing shortages, Trump chose to cut bait on his base and back down, finally.
It was, in no uncertain terms, a historic humiliation both for the president and for the congressional Republicans who empowered and enabled him throughout this debacle. I am looking at you, Mitch McConnell.
The final vote and signature on Friday night served as an exclamation point at the end of an incredible, unprecedented week that began with several White House officials, including the president, trying to commiserate with furloughed federal workers and failing in grisly fashion. An old friend of mine who made a lifelong career as a commercial real estate attorney twigged me to something noteworthy buried within another of Trump’s jousting matches with the English language.
If you have mortgages, mortgagees, the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along. That’s what happens in times like these. They know the people. They’ve been dealing with them for years, and they work along. The grocery store … I think that’s probably what Wilbur Ross meant.
Ross, then Lara Trump, then Larry “just-a-glitch” Kudlow and then Trump himself, all lined up to show everyone what it sounds like when someone who has never known anything but wealth and privilege tries to locate the concept of being flat busted. Watching these bent silver spoons vomiting ersatz empathy on us lesser mortals was a bit like listening to a frog trying to explain to a tadpole what it’s like on dry land.
The kicker, though, is that bold couplet noted above: work along. “A ‘work along’ was a term that I remember being used in the commercial real estate development business when a developer was in trouble with the lender,” my lawyer friend told me. “As I recall, a ‘work along’ was the attempt to negotiate a payment plan that would keep the developer out of foreclosure. I’m sure Trump knows this term intimately.”
Indeed. The closest Trump can come to giving financial advice to people living paycheck to paycheck is a.) Ask the grocery store to give you free food, and b.) Ask your creditors for a “work along” like he did whenever one of his real estate projects (see: Atlantic City) failed to prosper. Had Trump gone on in this vein much longer, even money says he would have advised the furloughed workers to just declare bankruptcy and be done with it. After all, it worked for him a whole bunch of times.
Had this been the low point of Trump’s week, we could have written it off merely as more predictable static from a broken radio… but no, oh no, this episode was merely an accent in the symphony of shame and disgrace that is the soundtrack of our lives these days.
Trump’s television-attorney-and-slapstick-quote-machine Rudy Giuliani spent the week warping reality into bold new shapes, to the shuddering dismay of the White House. Giuliani began by stating Trump was neck-deep in talks to build a Trump Tower in Moscow throughout the 2016 election, thus implicating his client in a blizzard of possible crimes before later claiming his words were “hypothetical.” Attempting to swat down the bombshell BuzzFeed report claiming Trump directly instructed his bagman Michael Cohen to mislead Congress, Giuliani said he had “been through all the tapes” and knew the story was false. When the world went “WAIT WHAT TAPES?” Giuliani backtracked again, saying, “I shouldn’t have said ‘tapes.’”
All this led to the following line from Newsweek that deserves to be enshrined in the Surreal Journalism Hall of Fame: “Republicans close to the White House told the AP they believe Giuliani may be appearing on TV after drinking alcohol, so he should be banned from evening appearances on news shows.” All in all, it was not a towering week for the president’s most prominent mouthpiece.
The week was not done with Mr. Trump, however. On Thursday, Speaker Pelosi conclusively reminded the president that sitting down with her at a poker table is a perilous undertaking. It began days before, with Pelosi informing Trump that he should delay the State of the Union speech until the government shutdown was ended, for security reasons. Trump responded by trashing her overseas trip and then flatly stated he was coming anyway.
Then came the fun part. “I am writing to inform you,” wrote Pelosi in a message that was delivered with a bag of rusty razor blades and a live hand grenade, “that the House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened.” Trump fed Pelosi’s blunt door-slam through his Reality Transmogrification Machine and coughed up this gibberish onto his own carpet:
As the Shutdown was going on, Nancy Pelosi asked me to give the State of the Union Address. I agreed. She then changed her mind because of the Shutdown, suggesting a later date. This is her prerogative – I will do the Address when the Shutdown is over. I am not looking for an….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2019
….alternative venue for the SOTU Address because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber. I look forward to giving a “great” State of the Union Address in the near future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2019
Full disclosure: I am one of those who argued, in the run-up to the swearing-in of this new Congress, that the Democratic Party would do well to avail itself of a new generation of leaders who are champing at the proverbial bit to get some serious work done. Not immediately, I said, but soon, and I stand by that assessment.
That being said, Pelosi’s stewardship of the new House Democratic majority has been nothing short of spectacular. From the government shutdown to her brinksmanship over the State of the Union, Pelosi has made chasing Trump up a tree into an absolute art form. One might argue that the Speaker found the uprising on her left flank to be motivational and has acted accordingly, but this is only supposition. The fact is Pelosi made Trump fold his State of the Union cards so forcefully that he broke the table and spilled his dwindling pile of chips all over the floor right in front of the whole wide world. It was a powerful thing to see.
Then came sunrise on Friday morning in Florida, which shone down gamely on the arrest of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. Many have been waiting for this particular shoe to drop, and when it did, the president of the United States was compelled to do a solid imitation of a panicked Titanic passenger who just realized the last lifeboat was floating away:
Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better. Who alerted CNN to be there?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2019
Stone, who has been sharing a brain with Trump for years, was indicted by Robert Mueller on one count of obstruction, one count of witness tampering and five counts of making false statements. His apparent dalliance with online Russian front man Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks, combined with his serial denials that he passed illicitly gained information about Hillary Clinton on to the Trump campaign, has come back to land on him with a meaty thud. Of note: The FBI agents who arrested Stone did so without pay.
As the morning turned to afternoon on Friday, we were all left to ponder the next chapter of the Russia investigation. Michael Flynn, then Cohen, then Paul Manafort (who also made a court appearance on Friday) and now Stone have all been laid low by Mr. Mueller, which begs the $64,000 question: Who’s next? Jared Kushner, maybe? Ivanka, Don Jr. and/or Eric Trump, perhaps? Each and every one of them have skin in the game at this point, and there aren’t many non-family members left for Mueller to indict. This ladder, like all ladders, goes up.
In the span of a week, Trump and his people did a fair impression of Marie Antoinette before the guillotine clanged down. The speaker of the House ate Trump’s lunch and denied him the pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union he so desperately craves. His most publicly visible attorney and spokesman dropped their legal defense into a blender and hit “puree,” and yet another of his closest confidants is now facing the choice between flipping for Mueller or going to prison.
Then, on Friday afternoon, Trump abruptly folded on the shutdown fight. Why? The airline crisis may well have been a factor. Ditto his plummeting poll numbers. Perhaps he was motivated by nothing more profound than a desire to give the State of the Union speech and bask in its artificial applause one more time. As of this printing, he didn’t even get that.
After a grueling week of bruising setbacks, this was — despite all his Rose Garden bluster — another Brobdingnagian defeat for Trump. The Republican Party is in shambles. Trump’s hasty retreat has sent much of his base into paroxysms of betrayed rage, and is another shining victory for Speaker Pelosi. Here’s to more of the same hopefully coming in these next three weeks.