What Went Down In Trump’s 2019 State Of The Union

What Went Down In Trump’s 2019 State Of The Union | FiveThirtyEight

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Why Trump Blinked

President Trump blinked. The 35-day partial government shutdown appears to be ending.

From the start of the shutdown, congressional Democrats said they would not negotiate regarding Trump’s proposal for a border wall until the government reopened. Trump said he would not agree to legislation opening the government unless it included money for the border wall. That standoff lasted until Friday. Congress is expected to pass a bill that funds the government through Feb. 15 and does not include wall money, and Trump said that he would sign it in a Rose Garden address.

Why did Trump back down? Well, for all of the reasons we’ve been talking about for weeks. Polls consistently showed that the public was largely blaming the president, more than congressional Democrats, for the shutdown. That “blame Trump” view had recently gained more traction:

Moreover, Trump’s approval ratings were declining amid the impasse:

The public response had clear effects in Congress. Congressional Republicans had been unified behind the president in the early stages of the shutdown, but cracks started to emerge as it dragged on. In public, this was demonstrated on Thursday by six Senate Republicans voting for legislation put forward by Senate Democrats that would fund the government without money for the wall. And, in private, disagreement with the president’s strategy extended beyond those six. A meeting between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday reportedly turned into a venting session, with some senators scolding Pence for the White House’s strategy. Among the critics was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has the power to bring forward legislation, whether Trump likes it or not.

We don’t know much about the private discussions between McConnell and the White House, but it’s possible that Trump folded in part because McConnell suggested Senate Republicans would likely move forward soon with legislation funding the government without paying for the wall — with or without the president’s support. Although Trump, in a Rose Garden speech on Friday, acted as if it were his decision to end the shutdown, the decision to fold may not truly have been Trump’s to make, and the speech may have been McConnell allowing the president to save face and concede before the Republicans in the Senate fully broke with him.

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To be clear, it’s not certain that Trump has lost the broader fight over the wall. It’s hard to see congressional Democrats offering much funding for it, but maybe they will agree to some kind of compromise that includes a few billion dollars. (I wouldn’t bet on this, as liberal Democratic opposition to the wall seems to be hardening.) Or, as he suggested on Friday, Trump could declare a national emergency and reallocate funds from other parts of the government to finance a wall. Such a move will almost certainly draw legal challenges. But Trump might win in the courts, as he (eventually) did on his executive order banning travel from certain countries into the United States.

For now, however, we’re back to where we were when the shutdown began. Trump and Congress have three weeks to figure out a solution. In public, at least, all sides are staking out the same positions they held when the shutdown started. Trump will likely need a different strategy going forward. The one he employed over the last month — shutting down the government (which is unpopular) to get the wall (which is unpopular) — could not keep his party united forever.

In short, it was another example that Trump is not immune to broader political dynamics, despite his surprising win in 2016. The health care policy legislation he was pushing for much of 2017 was deeply unpopularand it failed. He had high disapproval ratings going into the 2018 midterms — and his party lost a ton of House seats. And now, he pushed a shutdown strategy that seemed doomed to fail — and it did.

Two Years In, Turnover In Trump’s Cabinet Is Still Historically High

It took less than a year into Donald Trump’s presidency for members of his Cabinet to start leaving their jobs: In 2017, chief of staff Reince Priebus and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price called it quits, while Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly left his post to succeed Priebus. The departures continued to mount in 2018, as high-profile Cabinet members like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt headed for the exits. Then, on Dec. 31, three Cabinet-level officials — Kelly, Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — departed the Trump administration. Most recently, only a couple of days into 2019, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke followed them out the door.

About halfway through President Trump’s term seems like a good time to check in once again on the rate of turnover in his Cabinet compared with past presidents. Once again, it is unprecedented in recent history. Through this point in their presidencies, none of the preceding six presidents had weathered more turnover in the 24 offices that constitute Trump’s Cabinet1 than Trump has. As of Jan. 8, there had already been 12 staffing changes to his Cabinet. The president with the next-highest number at this point in his presidency was Bill Clinton, with only six. In fact, by Jan. 8 of the third year of the previous six administrations combined, just 16 people had left these offices.

Typically, people don’t start departing en masse until a president’s second term. All four of the two-term presidents we looked at — Ronald Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — didn’t reach 12 personnel changes until after they were re-elected. And it still took the one-term presidents, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, four years in office to pass the 12-departure mark.

In the chart above, we’ve tallied how many people departed from one of the offices in Trump’s Cabinet in each of the last seven presidential administrations by calendar year. (Close readers of FiveThirtyEight may notice that this chart is slightly different from ones that we’ve published in previous articles. That’s because those earlier stories gauged turnover by when a new Cabinet member replaced someone who left, rather than the initial departure date.) A few additional things to keep in mind:

  • We didn’t include any roles that were part of the Cabinets of other presidents but not part of Trump’s. For example, Clinton included the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in his Cabinet, but because the so-called “drug czar” isn’t in Trump’s Cabinet, we didn’t include that office’s turnover in Clinton’s totals.
  • Similarly, a few of the jobs in Trump’s Cabinet didn’t exist in previous administrations — for example, the posts of secretary of homeland security and director of national intelligence were created during the George W. Bush administration — which means that earlier presidents had fewer positions available to turn over, potentially deflating their totals in the chart.
  • Our research doesn’t include acting Cabinet members who stepped aside for permanent appointees.
  • People who left one Cabinet position to join another are included as departures. For instance, when Kelly left the Homeland Security Department to become Trump’s chief of staff, that counted as a departure even though he stayed in the Cabinet. Likewise, the 1985 job swap of Treasury Secretary-turned-chief of staff Don Regan and chief of staff-turned-Treasury Secretary James Baker was noted as two departures in Reagan’s fifth year.

This last point provides a bit of an asterisk for Trump: His Cabinet turnover isn’t quite as high as it looks because two of his Cabinet members who left their jobs did so to assume another Cabinet-level post. (In addition to Kelly, Mike Pompeo went from being CIA director to secretary of state — a position he still occupies.) Nevertheless, 10 of the 24 people in Trump’s original Cabinet are gone, and only 13 are holding their original positions. And at the rate they’re going, we may not have to wait long for even more to exit.

Emergency Politics Podcast: Mattis Is Out, Shutdown Is On (?)

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In an emergency installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s resignation and the looming government shutdown. Both events strain President Trump’s relationship with the congressional GOP and create uncertainty in Washington.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

Politics Podcast: Trump’s Turbulent Week

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The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast crew ties to make sense of some turbulent times in Trump world, including possible campaign finance violations and another staffing shakeup. They also check back in on potential election fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.