Conservatives were outraged when Congress passed and President Trump signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill that funded the Democratic Party’s priorities. It was a betrayal and a low mark for the Trump presidency, and as it turns out, it was partly John Boehner’s fault.
President Trump didn’t want to sign the bill. Jonathan Swan, writing for Axios, reports that the president was upset at the outcome of the negotiations and was “thinking about vetoing the bill.” There was no money for the border wall. Planned Parenthood was funded. The Republicans capitulated on Trump’s proposed spending cuts and actually increased funding for programs and government departments Trump wanted to downsize.
But White House chief of staff Reince Priebus intervened by calling former House Speaker John Boehner and asking him to persuade the president into signing the bill. “Ten minutes later,” Swan writes, the president spoke to Boehner.
Boehner made a couple different arguments to Trump about why he should sign the spending bill:
1. He told Trump he should be happy about the fact that he doesn't have to give a dollar of domestic spending in exchange for increases in military spending. And he got a substantial boost in military spending.
2. The most important argument Boehner made: the last thing you need right now is a government shutdown.
It would go too far to say that Boehner single-handedly convinced the president to sign the bill, and Swan explicitly writes that he is not suggesting this phone conversation was “determinative.” But this behind-the-scenes look at Trump’s decision to sign the spending bill reveals some of the important dynamics of the White House.
If there was any doubt that Reince Priebus is still acting as an agent of the Republican establishment, it’s gone now. Bringing in John Boehner, the former capitulator-in-chief of the GOP, to convince the president to sign the bill shows you where the establishment’s priorities lie. They are uninterested in advancing Trump’s agenda. They cower in fear of a government shutdown and will let the Democrats get away with murder to avoid a difficult political argument.
This episode also shows that President Trump has the right instincts. He knew it was a bad deal and wanted to kick the spending bill back to Congress, where the Democrats would either be forced to fund his agenda or shut down the government.
But rather than follow those instincts, the president listened to Boehner and signed a bill that more Democrats voted for than Republicans.
Congress will be doing this same old song and dance again when the FY 2018 budget comes up for a vote in September. If the president wants a victory this time, he shouldn’t be listening to John Boehner.