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Shutdown Victor: Pelosi. Shutdown Loser: Trump, Goldberg Says


Monday morning - that is the start of a workweek for hundreds of thousands of federal workers who had been furloughed for the past month. President Trump acquiesced to congressional Democrats who insisted that the government reopen before they debate border security. But the clock has now been reset, and the White House and Congress have three weeks to resolve the border debate. If not, the government could shut down again. Jonah Goldberg is in the studio with us this morning. He's a conservative commentator and senior editor of National Review. Jonah, good morning.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey, it's great to be here.

MARTIN: How do you read what just happened over the past month?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think it's fairly obvious - scoring on conventional Washington terms - that Nancy Pelosi won and Donald Trump lost. And any of - any effect - any effort to spin it another way is precisely that - spin. He lost. He backed down. He blinked. That said, he also punted, which is also another time-honored Washington tradition. And so now we have till February 15 to figure something out. And they've created, essentially, a commission, which is also - it's like the trifecta of Washington cliches.



MARTIN: The game of chicken, blinking, the commission...

GOLDBERG: That's right. I mean, we could play shutdown bingo...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: ...And almost everything would be checked off. And so my own deeply cynical - searching Amazon for deals on hemlock - interpretation of all of this is that Donald Trump is speaking honestly and somewhat accurately in the Wall Street Journal interview that came out last night when he says it's less than 50-50 chance that this commission - I mean, this group of lawmakers, gang of 17, is going to come up with a solution that pleases everybody and we avoid another government shutdown. I think that what Trump was doing in that very almost Castroite in length speech the other day was doing - is setting the predicate to declare a national emergency, which he may have the legal authority to do. There's an interesting debate about it, but which, I think, is personally a constitutional and philosophical monstrosity - declare a national emergency and just sidestep the entire political process with the full knowledge that the courts will intervene and stop it. And that lets both Democrats and Republicans save face...

MARTIN: Right.

GOLDBERG: ...And avoids a shutdown.

MARTIN: Let's listen - Marco Rubio was asked about this on "Meet The Press" Sunday. Let's listen to this.


MARCO RUBIO: It's just not a good precedent to set in terms of action. It doesn't mean that I don't want border security. I do. I just think that's the wrong way to achieve it. It doesn't provide certainty. And you could very well wind up in sort of a - the abstract victory at the front end and then not getting it done.

MARTIN: Other conservative commentators, Erick Erickson comes to mind, has pointed out the fact that, listen, President Trump, if you decide to evoke a national emergency over a "border crisis," quote, unquote, get ready for the Democrats to - the next time they control the White House - to declare a national emergency over guns in America or climate change. I mean, what kind of political precedent does this set?

GOLDBERG: Oh, I think it probably takes - it sets a terrible one. I've been banging my spoon in my highchair about this for a while now. And it's - but it's - to me, it's not just the partisan precedent, which I think is an important thing. It's also just simply that the failure to get the legislation you want out of Congress is not a national emergency. And if it were a national emergency that required sending military troops on domestic soil, it would've been sufficiently obvious that we would have done it a while ago, or he would've done it a while ago. Instead, this is an attempt for him to save face. And I really worry - if you play this out, what does it look like if the U.S. military starts going onto private land through eminent domain, seizing eminent domain? It doesn't seem to me science fiction to think that there's going to be someone in - I don't know - Texas or Arizona who might have a gun and say, get off my land (laughter).

MARTIN: People who might be Republicans, people who might have voted for Donald Trump.

GOLDBERG: Very much so. And part of the irony of this situation is that demand for a wall is much higher in the sort of upper Midwest than it is in the border states themselves. 'Cause in the border states themselves, there are a lot of people who understand that it's a little more complicated situation. The further away you get, the more sort of cartoonish and symbolic this whole thing gets. And for whatever reason, Donald Trump has decided - he said the other day, apparently, that this is his read my lips pledge. This is the defining pledge of his presidency, so he's locked in. He has to prove that he's doing something about this symbolic issue of his presidency. And it's going to push us into a place where even more democratic and constitutional norms get damaged. And then the Democrats are going to seize upon those precedents to do even more damage. And it's going to be a vicious cycle for a while.

MARTIN: Speaking just in pure, raw, political terms, would declaring a national emergency repair some of the damage that's been done between the president and his base?

GOLDBERG: I think so. I mean, there's an interesting split in the Trump supporting base - that 30, 35 percent of the Republican, you know, electorate that really stands by him. Some of those people are what you might call America Firsters, who were there before Donald Trump. They wanted less immigration. They wanted, you know, sort of pull-the-troops-home kind of foreign policy long before Trump showed up on the scene. And then there are the people who are sort of the Trumpists who just like Donald Trump. The America Firsters were very angry about Trump caving on the shutdown, most obviously people like Ann Coulter. And so there's a bit of a rift there. I think if Donald Trump declares a national emergency, that might help heal that rift.

MARTIN: Jonah Goldberg of National Review. Jonah, thanks as always. We appreciate it.

GOLDBERG: It's great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.