Newsletter: Essential Politics: Whether you call it the Schumer shutdown or Trump shutdown, there’s plenty of blame to go around

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer blames Republicans for the government shutdown Saturday at the U.S. Capitol.
(Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

Blame is a tricky thing. And once a political event passes, blame gets shorthanded. With 287 days until voters decide if they want to return Republicans to control in Washington, there’s no way to tell if the two-days-and-counting federal government shutdown will motivate people for either party.

We’ll have a sense by 9 a.m. Pacific if the shutdown will stretch into the workweek, or if lawmakers will delay the fight by funding the government through Feb. 8. Our Washington bureau will be tracking the drama, and covering the shutdown showdown in real time on Essential Washington.

Senate leaders spent Sunday attempting to forge a deal to reopen the government, and there was no shortage of blame.

Sunday’s setback of failing to come to an agreement came despite intense negotiations on Capitol Hill as congressional leaders in both parties searched for an exit ramp. Moderate Republicans and Democrats appeared to rally behind a short-term funding proposal, and the White House signaled possible flexibility on “Dreamers.” Ultimately, they punted to Monday.


But here’s why the blame game is complicated. The failed vote that forced the shut down was not along straight party lines. Five Democrats — four of them who have tough reelection races this fall, and Doug Jones, elected in a surprise special election in Alabama last year — voted “Yes.” Five Republicans joined the rest of the Democrats, including California’s two senators, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, in voting “No.” (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voted against the funding bill as a procedural maneuver.)

So is it fair to blame Senate Democrats for the shutdown? Republicans, of course, quickly labeled it the #SchumerShutdown. Democrats say it’s the GOP’s fault because President Trump has been all over the place on the issue of immigration and with whom he wants to make deals. Not to mention the failed vote was thanks also to Republicans not having the entire caucus’ backing.

Even Sen. Ted Cruz, who took much of the blame for the 17-day shutdown in 2013 over the Affordable Care Act, blamed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.


If the White House statement calling Democrats “obstructionist losers” doesn’t say it all, the spat between Feinstein and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy might just sum it up.

Should there be a deal, a successful Senate vote would shift the drama to the House, and there’s no telling how negotiations will go if there’s any sort of Dream Act provision included.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been calling it the “Trump Shutdown.” But she’s also cut deals with the president before.

That’s all to say, buckle up. It’s bound to be an interesting few days.



We are going to manage this shutdown differently,” said Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director. He accused President Obama of using the 2013 budget stalemate to score political points, making the repercussions more painful for Americans than necessary.

Here’s what a shutdown might look like for tourists and more than 700,000 government employees.

And here’s a primer on the government functions that won’t change.


Speaking to U.S. troops involved in bombing Islamic State militants in Syria, Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday launched a broadside at Democrats over the government shutdown, accusing the opposition party of “playing politics with military pay.”


-- The women who took to the streets this weekend pledged to turn the moment into political action.

-- Check out the Women’s March voices our team captured from across the nation.


-- Tom Steyer talked up his impeachment push at the women’s march in Chicago.

-- Trump is appointing judges at a rapid pace. Kyle Kim has the data analysis.

-- The president’s delayed response to our state’s deadly mudslides symbolizes the disconnect between Trump and California that has veered from arm’s distance to outright hostility over the last year.

-- While at Sundance for the premiere of “RBG,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shared a “Me too” moment from her time at Cornell. She also said she has no plans to retire any time soon, Colleen Shalby reports from Utah.


-- House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes has been working behind the scenes to expose what he’s described as problems within the Department of Justice, and his efforts are beginning to see the light of day. Members of Congress are reading a confidential four-page memo that is the result of the Tulare Republican’s research, and conservatives are demanding that it become public. Democrats describe the memo as a “pack of lies,” creating a new partisan rift over the ongoing Russian investigation.


Did you miss Washington bureau chief David Lauter’s rundown of our new USC-Dornsife/Los Angeles Times national poll? Here’s a quick summary.

Trump ends his first year in a notably weakened position, the poll found. Yes, most of his core supporters have stuck with him, but not all of them have. And given his extremely narrow victory in 2016, he needs to be expanding his support, not watching it erode.


About one in eight people who approved of Trump’s job performance when we did our last national poll in April disapprove now. Very few have moved in the opposite direction.

As important, in April, about one in seven people said it was too early to make up their minds about Trump’s job performance. Because our poll repeatedly queries the same panel of people (just over 3,800 respondents in the current survey), we know that most of those who were uncertain then have made up their minds now. And by about 2-1, they’ve gone against Trump.

The result: The public’s assessment of Trump’s job performance, which was 47% disapprove, 40% approve in April, is now 55%-32%. A 7-point deficit has become a 23-point hole.

That’s dragged down the Republican Party as both sides prepare for this year’s midterm elections: Democrats have an 11-point lead when we asked which party’s candidate a person would vote for if the congressional election were happening today. If that holds up, Democrats would be favored to win the majority of the House.


Cathleen Decker has the details on how the 2020 presidential race has begun to shape up. The top line: Voters are overwhelmingly done with Hillary Clinton, but are still interested in Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Decker and I will be talking about her story and the rest of the results with pollster Jill Darling and Robert Shrum, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, on Monday at 3 p.m. Pacific time. Join us and ask your questions on Facebook Live.


Under investigation for sexual harassment allegations, state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) is facing a political challenge from 20 delegates from his Senate district who have petitioned to make it harder for him to earn a state Democratic Party endorsement.


Mendoza is not the only lawmaker facing heartburn over endorsements. Melanie Mason reports that activists throughout the state are bluntly asking politicians if they have any history of sexual harassment in their past. The issue is being addressed more candidly than it has before. In Sacramento, a group of activists put out a questionnaire about potential harassment in representatives’ past, forcing one lawmaker, Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), to re-litigate a 2005 allegation of inappropriate workplace behavior.

Keep up with this story in the moment via our Essential Politics news feed on California politics.


Concerned about “rumors” of an imminent immigration enforcement sweep in California, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra on Thursday warned employers he is prepared to seek $10,000 fines if they violate a new state law that prohibits them from giving information on employees to federal authorities.



In the coming weeks, expect to see petitions on the street for a $2-billion bond to clean up lead paint and other environmental hazards in homes and schools across the state. Three of the nation’s largest paint companies are funding the initiative, Liam Dillon reports, and as part of the measure they could nullify hundreds of millions of dollars of their own liability to clean up lead paint ordered by a state appeals court.

While private industries often have tried to use the state initiative system for their benefit, one expert we spoke with couldn’t recall companies ever trying to use a ballot measure to eliminate a court judgment.



Deep in the folds of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Reagan Ranch near Santa Barbara has become a spawning ground for the modern-era young conservative movement that’s blossoming nationwide. The ranch is owned by the Young America’s Foundation, which sends busloads of high school and college students up to what was known as Reagan’s Western White House as part of its series of weekend conferences on conservatism.

Phil Willon reports from inside one of the camps as the foundation fights against what it sees as indoctrination from liberal colleges.


Time’s running out for Gov. Jerry Brown to fix his two big legacy projects: the bullet train and delta tunnels. If he doesn’t, his successor might dump them in the trash, George Skelton writes.


And the Democratic candidates for governor are spending plenty of time talking about Trump, but are shying away from digging into California’s essential need for public pension reform, Skelton wrote in his Tuesday column. The reason for the silence, he writes, is any real solutions make too many enemies — and that’s politically dumb, especially during an election year.


Two prominent Democrats have pledged to work together to bring back net neutrality to California. They say the rules over broadband and wireless providers, rolled back by the Federal Communications Commission, are crucial to a fair, open and free internet. Jazmine Ulloa writes that their proposals face heavy opposition from the telecom industry. And supporters say neither effort will be enough if the state does not also resuscitate federal rules to protect the privacy of internet customers.



When it comes to getting an initiative on California’s statewide ballot, the odds of success all depend on money and time.

Now, as time grows short, the list of possibles is starting to come into view. In his Sunday column, John Myers counts a dozen proposals that are looking like they have a chance — covering everything from housing to criminal justice to, well, splitting California into separate states.


-- This week’s California Politics Podcast takes a look at the political showdown over immigration raids, and examines whether statewide races other than governor or U.S. Senate can get the attention of voters in the early weeks of 2018.


-- About 10,000 Californians barred from owning guns are still armed. Patrick McGreevy writes about a proposal to help fix the problem.

-- Californians who renew their driver’s license by mail will soon be able to use that same document to become a voter, after state officials settled a federal voting rights lawsuit.

-- Two Democratic assemblymen want to increase the state’s business taxes after the federal government’s tax cuts.

-- A bid to exempt sales taxes on tampons failed again at the Capitol.


-- Why did legislation that would have expanded rent control in California fail? Check out Liam Dillon’s latest podcast with CalMatters on the state’s housing crisis for the answer. Also, opponents of a possible statewide ballot measure to expand rent control expect they’ll need to spend $60 million to defeat it.

-- As hundreds of thousands took to the streets this weekend for women’s marches across the country, leaders of the Sacramento-based “We Said Enough” campaign unveiled a tech app to help victims of sexual harassment report workplace abuse across the nation, no matter their location or industry.

-- A citizens panel that is helping to set rules for the marijuana industry in California has agreed to examine the effect of taxes that some growers and sellers have complained are too high. The state Cannabis Advisory Committee, after lengthy debate, also decided Thursday to create a subcommittee to look into how legalized marijuana affects public health and young people.

-- A Los Angeles-area lawmaker wants to make surfing the official state sport.



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