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Government Shutdown Threat Is A Negotiating Tactic, Strategist Says


The border wall and restricting immigration were key issues for President Trump's campaign, of course. Scott Jennings is with me now. He's a Republican strategist, and he is close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Scott, welcome back to MORNING EDITION.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Thank you. Good morning.

KING: Do you think the government will shut down this fall?

JENNINGS: No. I don't. I think right now Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, and Paul Ryan and Donald Trump are actually working quite well together on passing the piecemeal spending bills. They need to keep the government open. I think the president is always going to give us the hardest immigration line. But, at the end of the day, they're going to fund the government and push this until after the election. I do think we'll have a fight over the border wall. It just won't shut down the government before Election Day.

KING: Republican leaders, including Senator McConnell, have said the government will stay open. You're noting this. Is the White House talking with leading Republicans on the Hill, and if it is, why does it just seem as if people are not on the same page? Is that deliberate?

JENNINGS: Well, I think the president is always going to give the Republican base exactly what they expect, which is the absolute hardest line on immigration and the wall. At the same time, I think the working relationship between the president and Mitch McConnell has gotten so good that they are operating their dual-track strategy. One thing going on behind the scenes is that McConnell is telling the president, I believe, do not do anything to interrupt our ability to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That's something the president really desires. So even as the president continues to discuss the need for a wall publicly, I think they've got a clear strategy to fund the government, confirm Kavanaugh, have the election and then talk about the border wall sometime between Election Day and January 1.

KING: So the president is just sort of talking here. Is that then part of his political strategy, since the wall was such a big focus of his campaign? Like, is this a way for him to loop back and rally the base? Is that what he's doing?

JENNINGS: Absolutely. The president has always discussed the need for tougher border security. He cannot afford to be seen as pulling back on that. So the president has to stay on that message even as he trusts his Republican allies in Congress to keep the government open. One thing the Republicans have to do is not look dysfunctional on the eve of an election. We have full control of the government. We have to keep it open. We can't say to voters, we can't get ourselves together enough to keep the government open just days before people go to the polls. That would be a political disaster.

KING: All right. But, let's address that. What if the government does shut down? I mean, Republicans are facing what everyone says is going to be a tough midterm election. One the scale of one to 10, how big a disaster is it if the government shuts down?

JENNINGS: Well, I wouldn't know how to put a number on it, but I know that if we're in bad weather and we've got our umbrellas up, that would be like putting your umbrella away and just taking it in the face while standing on the beach. That's not something we want to do. And the Republicans have to show people that, hey, we're functional. We can run the government. And even though it's a bad environment right now, it could be made worse. This would be one of the ways to make it worse.

KING: Scott Jennings is a Republican strategist in Kentucky. Scott, thank you so much for your time.

JENNINGS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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