I'll get to my suggestion in a moment, but first, a look at the progress -- or lack thereof -- from an ad hoc committee of Senators working toward a possible resolution. President Trump flatly rejected Lindsey Graham's recent proposal to reopen shuttered parts of the federal government, then negotiate on border security, with an ill-conceived presidential declaration of 'emergency' powers as a backstop if no agreement can be reached. But Graham has also been active on a separate track, teaming up with a group of Senators from both parties to possibly hammer out a compromise deal that could potentially attract 60 votes in the US Senate. The Washington Post has a few details:
A new bipartisan group of rank-and-file senators has formed to discuss how to end the weeks-long government shutdown, with talks between congressional leaders and the White House at a standstill. But unless President Trump and Democratic leaders find common ground, it’s unclear what the rank-and-file talks could yield...[West Virginia Democrat Joe] Manchin said that “nothing seems to be working” to bring an end to the partial government shutdown over Trump’s demands for money for his border wall. “Well I think what’s important is to recognize that you’ve got a bipartisan group of folks that are very focused on forging a path through the wilderness,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)...Graham attended Monday’s meeting of the bipartisan negotiation group. Other attendees included Sens. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
But where is Mitch McConnell on all of this? He's been conspicuously absent from the negotiating table and subsequent press scrums in recent weeks, having been burned by President Trump's sudden about-face on a Senate government funding bill that passed the upper chamber by voice vote in December. Since that major shift, which precipitated the partial shutdown, McConnell has taken a back seat, simply stating over and over again that he'll only move a bill that the president will sign. WaPo says the majority leader isn't terribly optimistic about the bipartisan 'gang's' prospects for success, but he isn't discouraging their talks either:
Allies of McConnell were not optimistic Monday that bipartisan talks between rank-and-file senators were the key to breaking the impasse. McConnell’s position continues to be that Trump, Pelosi and Schumer must agree on a solution for it to succeed, they emphasized. McConnell is not discouraging individual senators from brainstorming or strategizing, according to a senior Senate GOP leadership aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe his view, but his thinking on how to solve the problem has not changed. “As long as their answer remains ‘no,’ there’s probably not a productive role for him to play,” said Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff and a close confidant of the Senate leader, speaking of the Democratic resistance to negotiating wall funding. Holmes said that if Democrats came to the table with demands in exchange for wall funding, that might entice McConnell to engage more closely in the negotiations.
Because the public favors a middle-ground deal to end the shutdown, Republicans should pressure Democrats to put ideas on the table, while floating concessions and proposals of their own. Surely some Democrats would be willing to barter various provisions they desire for more border security funding, a segment of which would go to the construction of more fencing -- which Democrats have supported many times in even the recent past. This is a key point. In case you missed it, Marc Thiessen furnishes us with a brief history:
With that information in mind, what about the idea of Democratic leadership publicly agreeing in principle to allocate a certain dollar figure (perhaps in the ballpark of Trump's top line ask) of additional border security funds? Yes, this money would be applied to the 'holistic approach' everyone appears to agree on, but some significant portion would be earmarked for new barriers. in exchange, Congress would follow Democrats' preferred sequence of reopening the government: With a tentative compromise in place, the House and Senate could pass six of the seven remaining consensus appropriations bills, then extend DHS' money for another month or so, in order to allow specifics on the agreed-upon bump in border security dollars to be ironed out. If either side tries to yank the rug out from under the other during that process, another partial shutdown (DHS only) would kick in within a few weeks. This seems reasonable to me. Is there a compelling argument that it's not?
Meanwhile, multiple Democrats -- especially House members from swing districts -- are expressing concerns over Pelosi's stubborn strategy of "no," and publicly signaling support for additional barriers (as requested by Border Patrol). The White House is apparently seeking to exploit Democratic divisions, inviting a group of opposition lawmakers to huddle with the president on the issue:
Some NEWS w/ @JakeSherman: White House inviting group of House Democrats to meet this week to talk border security— Heather Caygle (@heatherscope) January 14, 2019
Will all of the invited Democrats decline the invite? Perhaps so, as prospects for constructive movement remain rather dim, according to Fox News' plugged-in top producer on the Hill. High level talks behind the scenes simply are not happening, as the impasse drags on, which he says is very unusual:
Longtime Washington hands are confounded at this gov't shutdown. Have never seen a crisis where there weren't negotiations offstage. Back channel talks. Late nights. Weekend sessions.— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) January 14, 2019
I'd humbly submit my imperfect suggestion above as a possible breakthrough. It may not work, but nothing is working. Trump could point to Democrats pledging more money for more physical barriers along the border, and Democratic leaders could accurately say that they did not agree to any granular details until Republicans assented to their overall timetable to put in end to the shutdown. I'll leave you with a new Quinnipiac poll showing Americans disagreeing with Democrats on whether there's a crisis at the southern border, but pinning most of the (unpopular) shutdown blame on Trump and his party.