Editor’s Note: Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
All anyone needed to know about how the #SchumerShutdown was going to end could be found in the votes of five red-state Democrats who, on Friday night, bailed on their party’s leader and supported President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s position to keep the government open.
Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Doug Jones (Alabama) bucked Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer because they knew there was no way to explain why their party was prioritizing 700,000 non-US citizens in the DACA program over nine million children who rely on the CHIP program for insurance. Four of those senators are on the ballot this November, and the other– Jones – just got to Washington and seems like a guy who wants to stay there when he faces re-election in 2020.
A lack of Democratic unity destroyed Schumer’s leverage. A smarter tactic than enabling a shutdown would have been for Democrats to offer McConnell nine votes on Friday night, forcing the majority leader to come up with 51 Republican votes (which he did not have). Had the Democrats made a better strategic choice, they might have won the fight narrative.
Instead, Senate Democrats owned this shutdown as headlines in various media outlets correctly assigned Schumer the blame. CNN’s polling was clear: Americans – by a 56% to 34% margin – said DACA should not take priority over keeping the government open, and voters believe a CHIP extension is more important than fixing DACA.
McConnell read his cards and the situation just right. He knew the red-state Democrats would never rejoin their party’s left wing, and he worked with Sen. Lindsey Graham to recapture some of the Republicans who voted against the original deal by crafting the February 8 strategy promising to handle immigration at that time. Interestingly, McConnell and Graham offered Schumer the three-week off ramp Friday night and he rejected it, giving his conference a weekend of pain and a bended knee on Monday.
Immigration wasn’t ready Friday night, but CHIP, a more popular program, was. Schumer misread that badly and paid dearly. Left-wing Democratic activists are livid with their leadership, but they ought to take a deep breath and see this for what it is: a win for people who want problems solved.
Because McConnell has delivered another political win to Trump, here’s what is going to happen: the government will reopen; the CHIP program gets six years of funding; and immigration reform – including deserved legal certainty for the Dreamers – will find a “level playing field,” according to McConnell himself in the Senate by February 8. Trump is oh-so-close to doing something neither of the two previous Oval Office occupants could do – signing into law comprehensive immigration reform with real border security upgrades.
McConnell turning Schumer’s strategic blunder into another win for the President (just the way he did on tax cuts, in which the Democrats destroyed their credibility by promising death and Armageddon) is music to the ears of Republican strategists who believe party unity is the best way forward for the GOP to stave off Democrats in the midterm.
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Today, the GOP is united and ought to stay that way as they deliver an immigration package to the president’s desk. It is the Democrats that appear divided, a bad omen for a party that squandered its opportunity in the last election and may be in danger of doing so in this midterm.
CNN’s polling over the weekend indicated a huge narrowing in the generic ballot in the wake of the GOP tax cut. If the most committed Democratic activists turn on their party leaders over this shutdown, and if the economy continues to hum along, Republicans could easily hold their majorities come November.
And if they do, Donald Trump can thank Mitch McConnell, who has continuously delivered wins to his desk that prove to the American people that Republicans – entrusted with full control in 2016 – can effectively govern.