President Joe Biden and his Oval Office predecessor, Donald Trump, are about to wage the most direct showdown yet of their possible rematch as far-right House Republicans drive the nation to the brink of a government shutdown.
Intense activity from Washington to swing-state Michigan during this pivotal week will recall how extremism rocked political institutions during the ex-president’s turbulent term and will test Biden’s capacity to again exploit the chaos to empower his reelection bid.
The government could run out of money at midnight Saturday as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struggles to control a burn-it-down faction in his majority. The rebels are holding funding hostage to their demands for huge spending cuts that they have no power to force the Democratic-run Senate and White House to accept.
Trump, seeking to sow dysfunction on Biden’s watch and advance his political goals as the GOP front-runner for 2024, is goading his loyalists and called on Republicans in a Truth Social post to shut Washington down “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING.”
Hundreds of miles away in Michigan, Biden and Trump will step up their putative general election campaign in an early skirmish over blue-collar Midwestern votes against the backdrop of a strike paralyzing the iconic American auto industry. The stoppage exposed a fault line between Biden’s long-time support for union workers seeking pay rises and his plans for an electric vehicle revolution that could transform the industry. Trump, who opposes plans for a low carbon economy to fight climate change, initiated the showdown by scheduling a visit to the striking workers on Wednesday – the same night other GOP hopefuls will be debating. In a radio ad, the ex-president’s team claims he always stood for auto workers even as the United Auto Workers union warns a second Trump term would be a disaster for organized labor.
The Biden campaign initially blasted Trump’s trip as a “self-serving photo op.” But Biden then announced he would travel to Michigan a day before Trump for a historic walk along the picket line. The move reflects a show of political dexterity from the Biden team after days of unflattering coverage over the president’s age and it comes as new polls Sunday showed him locked in a theoretical dead heat match-up with Trump in November 2024 amid voter dissatisfaction over his management of the economy. Michigan – which Trump won in 2016 but Biden pulled back into the Democratic column in 2020 – will again be a vital general election state.
The drama in the Wolverine State will overshadow the second Republican debate, which Trump’s massive polling lead and refusal to attend has turned into a squabble for a distant second place in the race. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will try to build on momentum coming out of the first debate in Wisconsin last month, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is under pressure to revive a fast-falling campaign. The event is at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California – an incongruous choice since much of the GOP has left behind the legacy of the president who won the Cold War against Soviet totalitarianism and has now largely adopted Trump’s authoritarian instincts.
Those tendencies are on full display in the House GOP, which is planning to hold the first hearing in their impeachment inquiry into Biden on Thursday, even while threatening a government shutdown at the end of the week. The juxtaposition is likely to inflate claims that the GOP, which has yet to show any evidence that Biden is guilty of bribery, treason or high crimes and other misdemeanors, is using impeachment to try to damage the president ahead of the election and to mitigate the historic stain of Trump’s double impeachments and quadruple criminal indictments. Still, the process could exacerbate public skepticism over Hunter Biden’s alleged influence peddling, which has created an impression of a conflict of interest, even if the GOP is yet to prove that the president profited personally from the transactions.
And Democrats now have another ethical headache, after a stunning corruption indictment against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week gave the GOP more ammunition for claims that alleged illegalities go far wider than Trump.
No visible escape routes as government hurtles toward shutdown
The showdown in the House shows that the deepening Republican civil war risks making the country ungovernable. Indeed, that may be a desirable outcome for pro-Trump Republicans who abhor what they see as an overpowering administrative state or who seek dysfunction and economic turmoil that could damage Biden’s presidency and aid Trump’s return to power.