Trump: US needs 'good' government shutdown to fix trouble in Senate

David Smith, Lauren Gambino and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington
Donald Trump has called for a ‘good shutdown in September’ as Congress considers its $1.1tn budget deal. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

In a week when votes are expected on a bipartisan $1.1tn budget deal to avoid a government shutdown, Donald Trump once again upended conventional political wisdom.

On Tuesday morning, the president tweeted: “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there!

“We … either elect more Republican senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

The tweets prompted one leading senator to say he wished “somebody would take his iPhone away”.

In the event of a shutdown, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers are sent home and national parks and museums close. The most recent shutdown was over 16 days during Barack Obama’s administration in October 2013.

The new spending bill contains several major wins for Democrats over Republicans. There is no funding to begin building a wall on the Mexican border and the bill does not impose major cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency or Planned Parenthood. Its $15bn boost for military spending is just half the sum requested by Trump.

The Republican senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, told CNN on Tuesday: “I think the Democrats cleaned our clock. There are things in this bill that I just don’t understand. This was not winning from the Republican point of view.”

Later, despite his tweets, Trump tried to portray the deal favourably. “This is what winning looks like,” he said at the US Air Force Academy Commander-in-Chief trophy presentation, at the White House. “Our Republican team had its own victory – under the radar.”

The president touted a “massive and badly needed” increase in military funding as well as additional money for border security that he insisted would serve as “a down payment” on the promised border wall.

His position was duly defended by budget director Mick Mulvaney, who accused the Democrats of falsely claiming they won and Republicans lost.

“They wanted a shutdown,” the former congressman said. “We know that. They were desperate to make this administration look like we couldn’t function, we couldn’t govern.”

The bill will provide more money for defence, border security and school choice, Mulvaney said. He displayed photos of a 20ft steel wall on the border that he said would replace a lower mesh fence. There would be “several hundreds of millions of dollars” to extend this as well as levee walls, he said.

“We are building this now,” he added. “There is money in this deal to build this ... That’s what we got in this deal and that’s what we want you to know ... This is a huge win for border security.”

Pressed on Trump’s apparent wish for a shutdown, Mulvaney said: “I’ve been through a couple of shutdowns ... I think the president’s frustrated that he negotiated with the Democrats in good faith and they went out and spiked the football to make him look bad.

“I don’t anticipate a shutdown in September but if the Democrats aren’t going to behave any better than they have in the last couple of days, it may be inevitable.”

The president campaigned as an outsider who would “drain the swamp” and fix the broken politics of Washington. Asked to define a “good shutdown”, Mulvaney said: “It would be one that fixes this town. One that reinforces the message that this town really was as broken as they thought it was when they voted for Mr Trump … A good one would be something that fixes Washington DC permanently.”

Republicans have had to depend on Democratic votes to pass big spending bills in recent years because of opposition by fiscal conservatives in the House and the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

On the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, the Democratic minority leader, Chuck Schumer, quoted the Rolling Stones song that is regularly played at Trump’s rallies despite the band having asked him to stop using it.

“It is truly a shame that the president is degrading [the spending bill] because he didn’t get 100% of what he wanted,” Schumer said. “Bipartisanship is best summed up by the Rolling Stones: ‘You can’t always get what you want’ – or at least everything you want.”

Other Republicans swiftly shot down the notion that they would nix the 60-vote requirement to avoid a filibuster on legislation. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said there would be no changes to the rules.

“The American people expect us to work together,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. “There is an overwhelming majority, on a bipartisan basis, not interested in changing the way the Senate operates on a legislative calendar and that will not happen.”

Two senior senators, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Bob Corker of Tennessee, agreed that rules reform was not an option. Marco Rubio of Florida was terse. “It’s not gonna happen,” he said.

There was also familiar exasperation with the president’s penchant for forcing members of his party to respond to his unfiltered thoughts on Twitter.

Corker, who has worked closely with the Trump White House, said he appreciated his relationship with the president and his staff but nonetheless had a simple request: “I do wish somebody would take his iPhone away from him.” The Arizona senator John McCain suggested Trump should “think twice before he tweeted”.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, said with an exasperated laugh: “How many times have I had this: ‘Do you agree with a tweet this morning?’

Ryan offered his own appraisal of the spending agreement, touting an increase in funding for border security and defence as well as money for combatting opioid addiction.

“We’ve got a long ways to go between now and September,” he said. “But I share the president’s frustration.”

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