Patrick Griffin worked in the White House for Democratic president Bill Clinton and participated in negotiations with Republican lawmakers during the 1995 government shutdown—the longest in recent U.S. history.
Now a professor at American University, Griffin analyzes the current shutdown—sparked by a dispute over funding for President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall—that has paralyzed the American government since Dec. 22.
When will there be movement?
“This is going to be about ‘who blinks first.’ And when we did it in the ‘90s, we thought we had a better argument than they did, and it turns out we did. And they not only had to blink, and we got virtually everything we wanted, they also were damaged by it,” Griffin said. “Somebody will blink. Not in the too distant future.”
Assessment of Democratic strategy
“The reality is now nobody is paying much attention to it in the middle of the holidays… but as the battle shifts to the more general public, I think the messaging on the Democratic side will be more aggressive,” Griffin said. “My guess is that Trump is winning with his base but I don’t think he’s winning in the public. But this can change. And then when the Democrats take control [of the House of Representatives in January], the fight takes on a different feel.”
“I don’t know where the deal is. I don’t know whether it’s in a few more bucks, or if Trump will be very creative. He has the potential. If he did something on DACA, I think the Democrats would give him the money. But that would unsettle his base,” said Griffin, referring to a program that protects immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, which he has sought to scrap.
On the 1995 shutdown
“It’s very tough. You make the decision and there’s a lot of consideration that goes into the decision… You do a very, very thorough analysis of what you’re going to do and what they’re going to do and you play it out as far as you can,” Griffin said. “You don’t want the president running around on his own, undermining it. And President Clinton has some inclination to do that, but he was able to be managed and as a result our discipline and our message prevailed… Now, you never know with Trump.”
Should shutdowns be scrapped?
“It is a constitutionally defined tension between the Congress and the executive branch. The executive branch proposes and the Congress disposes. So they have the power of the purse. And that is something that keeps the checks and balances in place, whether it looks messy, whether we like the issue or who’s winning or losing,” Griffin said.