In advance of President Trump's speech on Saturday, many in the chattering class were convinced that he was preparing to pull the trigger on a legally-dubious invocation of emergency powers as a face-saving, but bad precedent-setting, exit strategy. Others thought that Trump would simply regurgitate familiar talking points, using the promise of a 'major' announcement to lure coverage away from other topics from which he supposedly wants to distract attention -- like Buzzfeed's Mueller story (oops), and the women's march. Instead, the president delivered a strong, persuasive, well-crafted statement in which he eschewed executive overreach and made real news by offering a new and specific compromise. Here's the crux of it:
Under Trump's proposal, (1) the federal government would be immediately reopened and fully funded, (2) more than $5 billion in additional border security funding would be allocated for new physical barriers (to be strategically deployed in specified areas, per the guidance of border patrol), (3) more money would be directed to fund humanitarian aid and accommodations for captured migrants, as well as additional border security personnel, technologies, and administrative judges to help reduce the backlog of asylum claims and other similar cases, and (4), the president would sign a three-year extension of protections for hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients and other individuals currently receiving temporary protected status classification.
Before the president could even spell out his offer in detail, Democratic leadership rejected it out of hand, once again reciting their demand that Trump agree to their terms before even considering a negotiation on his priorities. This approach has gotten us exactly nowhere for the last month. Also, Nancy Pelosi made it virtually impossible for any progress to be made on this front when she told the president that she would never provide funding for any new physical barriers, even in the course of promised post-shutdown talks. She effectively told Trump that he would get none of what he wants on "the wall" -- the core issue on which he campaigned and won -- even if he agreed to her preferred sequence of events. Pelosi has asked Trump to surrender his leverage in exchange for nothing, while refusing to negotiate at all, even as she professes to care very deeply about the federal workers who aren't getting paid. This stubborn and unreasonable intransigence is why the shutdown is about to enter its second month.
Trump's suggested extensions of protected status would provide relief for two groups of illegal immigrants, which was the thrust of the bipartisan 'Bridge' Act, co-sponsored by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin. Yet Democrats, including Durbin, have nevertheless pronounced themselves against the president's suggested path forward -- with some arguing that a temporary patch isn't good enough. In that case, they should make a counter-offer, as opposed to doing absolutely nothing as this impasse stretches on. I'm not sure a permanent DREAM Act is a fair swap for $5.7 billion in barrier funding, but let's at least have that conversation, and work toward 'yes.' Even the center-left editorial board of the Washington Post is starting to chastise Democrats for reflexively opposing everything, noting that if they truly prioritized the paychecks of federal workers, they'd play ball:
Mr. Trump’s offer should be welcomed but not accepted as the final word. There should be room to talk about the amount of money; how border security will be defined and enhanced; which categories of dreamers and TPS beneficiaries are covered; what their legal status will be, and for how long. But to refuse even to talk until the government reopens does no favors to sidelined federal workers and contractors. Unquestionably a deal would contain galling elements for both sides; that’s the nature of compromise. But a measure of statesmanship for a member of Congress now is the ability to accept some disappointments, and shrug off the inevitable attacks from purists...
Lefty polling analyst Nate Silver also called Trump's speech "competent" as a matter of both substance and political positioning:
We'll have a longer analysis up later. But my takeaway is that Trump's speech today was basically competent, both as a strategy and as a speech, but also that a lot of things would have to go right for it to result in a deal because he's dug himself into such a deep hole.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) January 19, 2019
Some moderate politicians who've been sharply critical of the shutdown are signaling hopefulness over, and openness to, Trump's idea, from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, to Maine Sen. Susan Collins, to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. This is not a crazy plan. It's a rational and fair jumping off point for a compromise bill that reopens the government. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring up this legislation for debate on Tuesday. If Democrats filibuster it, that action, coupled with Pelosi's refusal to even talk about a compromise, may start to shift some of the pressure and assignment of blame. Do Democrats care more about opposing Trump than reopening the government and paying workers? So far, the answer to that question is yes. At what point will the media and voters start to sour on that priority hierarchy? Republicans on the Hill are starting to turn up the heat on exactly this point:
Next week Senate will take up bill that:— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 19, 2019
- Extends TPS & DACA
- Funds disaster relief
- Funds humanitarian aid for migrants
- Ends #Shutdown
But Dem leaders reject it because includes some Border Security money.
This is completely irrational obstructionism
Democrat’s priorities:— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) January 20, 2019
1. Being against anything Trump wants, even "$1" for border security
876. DACA protection
877. Reopening government
The President is trying to negotiate but he needs partners in the Democratic party. End the shutdown. https://t.co/aAi2yu6qvs
I'll leave you with Vice President Pence on Fox News Sunday correctly pointing out that the person spearheading the effort to achieve a workable compromise is President Trump:
.@VP on proposed deal: This is not amnesty, there's no pathway to citizenship. There's no permanent status here at all, which is what amnesty contemplates. What is this is, is a good faith effort to address the issue, bring relief to DACA recipients. pic.twitter.com/NhF3fs5Bed— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) January 20, 2019
In the same interview, Pence declined to say that the terms laid out in Trump's Saturday comments were a final offer, indicating that the legislative process allows for give and take. The White House is saying, 'here's an idea that may be attractive to many Democrats; let's work together and get something passed."' Democratic leaders are saying, 'give us exactly what we want, how we want it, or else our answer is simply no. End of discussion.' Which side is the bigger impediment to a realistic resolution to this mess?
UPDATE - Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is running for president, says both sides are to blame for the shutdown and is pushing for public negotiations. Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand signaled that she's open to last year's DREAM Act for $25 billion in wall funding swap.