During this critical shutdown time, Trump has a partisan — with no real experience — in charge of his budget office.
Trump has been flailing throughout this entire shutdown. He's got no clear strategy of how to get past it, and no understanding of how a shutdown affects people and programs. That's in part due to the fact a partisan operative, Russell Vought, is the one running the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) right now.
Vought's experience doesn't include anything related to running a budget office for a nation of 325 million people and a $3.7 trillion yearly budget. Instead, Vought spent 15 years as a belligerent conservative staffer at places like Heritage Action, a wing of the hyper-partisan Heritage Foundation, and as a blogger for right-wing sites like RedState. He's never previously run a government agency of any size. What he has done, however, is virulently hate Muslims, saying they have a "deficient theology" and "don't know God."
He fits right in at the Trump administration, where the science adviser never studied science, where the head of Housing and Urban Development knows nothing about housing policy, and where a reality TV star ran a major communications shop for the White House.
Because he's just a partisan operative, Vought's solutions to the shutdown are threadbare. He's done things like sending Congress a letter making the same tired demand for a wall. That letter also demanded $800 million for the humanitarian crisis at the border–a crisis of Trump's own making. The letter contained no details as to why the administration needs the extra $5.7 billion or how that money would be spent, given that the amount wouldn't nearly cover construction of the entire wall. Even Trump's own Department of Homeland Security puts the cost at over $21 billion.
Instead of trying to get the government open, Vought is engaging in stunts designed to minimize the effects of the shutdown on Trump's base so that they won't get mad at Trump. He randomly declared that the IRS would issue tax refunds during the shutdown, even though most of the IRS is furloughed and previous interpretations of federal law say that refunds can't be issued during a shutdown. This move also calls back thousands of IRS workers, all of whom have to work, but none of whom will be paid. He's also been part of the administration's flip-flop on funding food stamps.
Vought is the perfect avatar for the whole of the Trump administration: wholly inexperienced, belligerently partisan, and utterly unconcerned about consequences. It's going to be awful hard to end a government shutdown when one party lets people like this run the show.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.