Over the past few days, America has seen several important milestones: The country has sworn in its most diverse freshman class of congresspeople, and has been gripped by one of the longest partial government shutdowns in recent history.
To understand how this moment compares to past halts in government funding—and what it all means for politics today—Pacific Standard spoke with Raymond Smock, a former historian for the House of Representatives and the recently retired director of the Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education.
President Donald Trump has alternately pinned the shutdown on Democratic politicians and himself. Earlier today, he said he was willing to keep federal agencies unfunded for years. Is it common for presidents to use such enthusiastic language when talking about shutdowns?
This is completely unprecedented for any president to shut down the government for a specific political issue that is a pet project of his.
Why then did previous shutdowns happen, if not for specific issues?
Some of them have been technical and just simply because they didn't get a bill done in time. They only lasted a few hours or a few days and everybody understood that it would be fixed. The last major time that there was a large shutdown was the fight between [then-Speaker of the House] Newt Gingrich and [President] Bill Clinton.
These shutdowns, I think, all of them are illegal. All of them are irresponsible. The job of the government is to keep the government running, but these things have become extreme political footballs, in recent times, because we have extreme partisanship and the complete inability to compromise.