Next Saturday, April 29th, is President Trump’s hundredth day in office, a historical marker used by the press to assess a new President’s progress since the first term of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. F.D.R. was grappling with the Great Depression, and he had a pliant Congress that would have passed almost anything he proposed. Presidents since then have often struggled to meet the expectations of the hundred-day report card but generally can point to a list of major legislative accomplishments. Trump does not have such a list. At the same time, the Trump White House is facing a much more consequential deadline, one that will help define his first months in office and perhaps his first term: absent a spending deal with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, next Saturday the government will shut down.
While the potential for a government shutdown has been overshadowed by other events—Syria, North Korea, the attempted repeal of Obamacare—the Trump White House is suddenly seized with the issue. “Next week is going to have quite high drama,” a top White House official, who sounded excited by the coming clash, told me. “It’s going to be action-packed. This one is not getting as much attention, but, trust me, it’s going to be the battle of the titans. And the great irony here is that the call for the government shutdown will come on—guess what?—the hundredth day. If you pitched this in a studio, they would say, ‘Get out of here, it’s too ridiculous.’ This is going to be a big one.”
The last government shutdown was in October, 2013, and was widely blamed on conservative Republicans in the House, with a major assist from Senator Ted Cruz, who demanded that Obamacare had to be defunded, a ludicrous strategy given that Barack Obama was President. Congress failed to pass the necessary legislation, and the government closed for two weeks before Republicans came back to the table. At the time, many predicted that the tactic would have dire political consequences for the G.O.P., but the following year the Party expanded its majority in the House and took over the Senate. Republican leaders have prevented their right wing from forcing shutdowns in the years since, but one lesson from 2013 is that the threat of a government shutdown is a powerful way to press for concessions without paying too high a political price.
In recent weeks, the prospect of a government shutdown seemed low. In the House and Senate, Democratic and Republican appropriators, who, despite ideological differences, are often united in their desire to spend money, were making steady progress. But there was an elephant in the room. In mid-March, the Trump Administration released a detailed spending request that included a large increase for the…