The news media and punditocracy were abuzz yesterday over the contentious Oval Office meeting between President Trump and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer regarding government funding and immigration. With a partial federal shutdown looming, each actor in the made-for-TV drama preened and flexed, as barbs flew back and forth. This may have been the best retort from POTUS:
"Elections have consequences" is a favorite aphorism of the winning party, but it's interesting that Schumer was the one to repeat it here. His party just lost seats in the chamber he represents, and the president he was chiding unexpectedly won a national election two years ago on the central promise of building a border wall. Did Democrats accede to that electoral "consequence"? Of course not. They've refused every offer from the White House on immigration, the most visible of which was quite reasonable and generous, in my view. In a sane world, construction would already be underway on 700-1,000 miles of physical barriers along the southern border, DREAMers' normalized legal status would be formalized, the flawed "diversity visa lottery" would be reformed or abolished, and we'd be shifting to a more sensible merit-based legal immigration regime, much like the Brits and Canadians have implemented. Instead, we're stuck at a bipartisan impasse. And now we're on the brink of a partial shutdown because the two sides can't even agree on $5 billion for border security funding.
As a minor digression, a quick point: Whenever a "government shutdown" is pending -- the politics of which usually (but not always) cut against Republicans -- it's important to note that it's at worst a partial shutdown. Much of the federal government could and would carry on, unaffected, for long periods of time. In this particular context, it would be even more 'partial' than is typically the case because the Republican Congress passed more appropriations bills through regular order in 2018 than had been achieved in any of the last 22 years. So even if this shutdown moves forward, much of the federal government has already been fully funded, including defense. And with that piece of information flagged, back to the current battle:
The Trump administration has already proffered a fair and productive compromise on immigration reform. It was rejected, along with every other proposal under consideration. So it's time to change course. In the past, I've suggested that the president should insist that Democrats live up to previous commitments on border security. Writing at the Washington Examiner, Byron York revives that theme:
No one, or almost no one, says a fence should cover all 1,954 miles of the border. A significant part of the border is terrain so dangerous and imposing that it would be very difficult for migrants to cross. During the campaign, and during his presidency, Trump called for a wall along about 1,000 miles...But Democrats oppose even that. And since Republicans could not pass wall funding when they controlled all of Congress and the White House, how could they possibly do it now, with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in charge of the House? Still, there is one possible course for Republicans. It is Public Law 109-367, better known as the Secure Fence Act. The Act was passed by big, bipartisan majorities in 2006, receiving 283 votes in the House and 80 in the Senate. It required the federal government to build reinforced fencing, at least two layers deep, along about 700 miles of the border. It specified the areas in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas where fencing would be installed.
That law passed on a sweeping, bipartisan basis in 2006, then Democrats defanged it the following year, after winning the midterm elections. But in its original form, a host of prominent Democrats signed on to the Secure Fence Act, including Senators Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein and...Chuck Schumer:
Public Law 109-367 remains on the books. And it still calls for a border barrier. What the president needs is money, and that has to come from Congress. Of course Democrats won't want to give it to him. But if Trump called for an appropriation to fund the fence, he would at least have a new argument: Democrats have already voted for the fence...Obviously the Democratic Party has moved far to the Left on immigration in the last 12 years. Many, if not all, of those Democrats would now oppose what they once supported, especially if President Trump wanted it.
Trump could call it "the wall" and declare victory. Democrats could insist that it's just "previously-agreed upon" fencing, so they didn't cave. This really shouldn't be so difficult, but dysfunction is the norm in today's political environment. I'll leave you with one positive update on a separate issue that actually has a real chance of garnering bipartisan support to make some real progress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced yesterday that he will bring the criminal justice reform bill to the floor, earning applause from members of both parties:
At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that have been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the recently revised Criminal Justice bill this month.— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 11, 2018
The White House favors the bill, with Jared Kushner building support for the policy on the Right.