The Democrats Should Concede Nothing on Border Wall

Parts of the government are due to shut down Friday from lack of funding. To prevent this from happening, the House of Representatives just passed a two-week “stop-gap” continuing resolution.

It will provide funding for the departments of Homeland Security, State, Interior, Justice, Transportation and Commerce, among others, until Dec. 21. The legislation also provides a two-week stop-gap for the National Flood Insurance Program and extends programs included in the last stopgap measure, such as the Violence Against Women Act for an additional two weeks.

The Senate is expected to follow suit later on Thursday. This will hardly solve the problem, however. Unless a deal on President Trump’s border wall is struck, Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution before the members go home for Christmas or we will end the year with a crippled government.

Nancy Pelosi is still the House Minority Leader rather than the Speaker of the House, so she can’t dictate anything at this point, but she seems just fine with punting on the wall for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Pelosi said said her preferred solution for meeting the new deadline is for Congress to pass the six appropriations bills that appropriators have agreement on with a continuing resolution for the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] measure.

As Greg Sargent explains, the Senate Democrats are generally uninterested in paying for a project the president repeatedly guaranteed would be funded by the Mexican government, but they have agreed to plop down $1.6 billion for enhanced border security. That money can be spent on certain kinds of fencing but explicitly cannot be spent on a wall. Now the Republicans are trying to say it’s a win and that Trump should claim victory while the Democrats are insisting otherwise and the president can take it or leave it.

So far, Trump doesn’t seem inclined to accept either the congressional Republicans’ definition of a wall or the $1.6 billion level of funding. He wants $5 billion.

The Senate Republicans have tried to explain that the votes aren’t there for $5 billion and that they’ve already struck a deal for the $1.6, but Trump doesn’t seem to care. As a result, we might see a Christmas shutdown.

Sargent argues that the Democrats should not fear a showdown with the president on this, nor should they make any further concessions. The Republicans ran a xenophobic campaign and wound up losing the House elections by the biggest raw total margin in history.

Democrats must shore up the notion that the midterms represented an unambiguous public rejection of his xenophobic nationalism. Republicans ran despicable race-baiting ads across the country that echoed Trump’s own message, which employed all kinds of lies about migrants and asylum seekers to portray them as a malicious, destructive, invasive force. He even used the military as a prop to bolster the GOP’s campaign propaganda. Democratic polling showed that voters roundly rejected this message.

Pelosi’s offer is a continuing resolution with $1.3 billion for (wall-restricted) border security, and even that is earning her some criticism from immigration advocates who rightly see this as a misallocation of funds and priorities. Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is on board with this take it or leave it approach.

They should probably use that negotiating strategy where every time an offer is rejected, the next offer is worse. In a few weeks, they will control the House and I see no reason to make a concession in December that they’d never make in January.

Trump may assume that the public usually takes the president’s side in a shutdown showdown, which is accurate. But the Republicans are divided on this and the Democrats are looking very united.

Plus, the Democrats have one of the best talking points in history: If the president wants more money for the Department of Homeland Security to spend on a border wall, he has to keep his promise and get it from the Mexicans.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.