The Democrats have long supported securing the border. But it is a signature initiative from President Donald Trump. So now they oppose it. The President cannot cave in, or Nancy Pelosi gets a win. There should be a way out, but both sides are now committed to their positions. Short of TSA workers just not showing up, thereby grinding air travel to a halt, the shutdown will continue.
Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all built fencing and walls on the border with Mexico. There actually is a reasonable argument in support of such security. Prior Presidents, along with members of Congress of both parties, agreed.
Trump wants $5 billion for just over 200 more miles of barriers along the border. Part of that money would also go toward hiring more Border Patrol agents, more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, more immigration judges and related staff, improved facilities and beds for asylum seekers, etc. The President has even been willing to increase foreign aid spending in Central America. Democrats have supported all of these things.
But Democrats understand that Trump must be exposed as weak in order to begin breaking up his base before 2020. If Pelosi and Chuck Schumer can get the President to cave without funding his signature issue, they will not only get a very public win with their base, but will also show that Trump is not really the man who cuts the best deals, as he so claims.
Republicans put Trump in this mess. For the last several years, Republican leaders in Congress have dragged out controversial measures until the holidays, knowing they could use the threat of missing Christmas to get a compromise. But this year, Trump reversed himself on the intended compromise after conservatives complained about the lack of border security funding.
Had congressional Republicans done a better job of helping Trump secure his signature campaign initiative, we would not be in this spot. All along, they thought they could convince the President to give it up. They have never liked the idea of a Pacific-to-Atlantic border wall and paid no attention when the President did not request that. He just wants a few hundred more miles of new barriers and improvements to the existing ones.
Likewise, Democrats have been so adamantly against the idea of a Pacific-to-Atlantic border wall they have ignored that the President's current planning does not ask for that. It does ask for things the Democrats have long wanted, e.g., hiring new immigration judges to expedite the backlog of asylum requests. Both sides have done a good job of mischaracterizing their opponents instead of listening to them.
At this point, there is no way the President can walk this back without it being a real surrender. If he goes with an emergency declaration, as he has threatened, he would just be surrendering creatively. In fact, Trump has advisers urging him to declare an emergency because they know it would reopen the government and a federal judge would stop the declaration from taking effect. It would be a complete surrender, ensuring no wall is ever built, but it would give the President the opportunity to blame out-of-control judges rather than admit defeat.
The only other alternative is for Democrats to offer up funding for border security, even if it is not the full $5 billion. At this point, the President and his team would gladly consider such a compromise from the Democrats, so long as the President gets to install a few more miles of wall along the border. The President may be getting blamed for the shutdown, but a reasonable offer from the Democrats would have the government open tomorrow. Thus far, they have been refusing to be reasonable -- because they want to hurt the President more than they want to open the government.
A year ago, Democrats and Trump were set to expand the border wall in exchange for letting the so-called Dreamers stay in the United States. The President walked away from that deal. It might be time to try going back to it.