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Shutdown is nasty start for 2019

January 6, 2019

This new year is going to be a rough one in politics, ranging from more indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller to endless bickering between a Democratic House and President Trump. It’s fitting that it’s starting out with a nasty government shutdown that could linger past the Super Bowl.

This is not your father’s shutdown. It’s a staring contest over a wall along the Mexican border — the one Trump (occasionally) wants and the one that Democrats (and more than a few Republicans) don’t.

Around Christmas, Trump almost caved on his wall because he knew he couldn’t even get it with Republican majorities in the House and Senate. (After two full years of that control, no less.) But conservative firebrands Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh called him a sellout for considering that final surrender, so he backed off and remembered his ironclad campaign pledge to build a “big, beautiful wall” from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. After all, this is a president who likes to brag, “Promises made, promises kept.”

So Trump is digging in his heels and saying this time, the government will remain shut down until the bricks start piling up. On Friday he even said the shutdown could last all of 2019. He was bluffing, I think.

On the other side, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the new wave of Democrats are just as firm. No Democrat has ever endorsed the wall, and the members of that party elected in November are even more opposed to it. They are mostly younger, more diverse and very liberal. It’s an absolute nonstarter to them, like repealing Obamacare. Pelosi even called the idea of a border wall “immoral” last week.

So here we are. Democrats won’t reopen the government with a wall, and Trump says he won’t without one. For a week or two at least, look for the shutdown to continue as the two sides hurl press releases at each other.

If there is a possible solution, it would lie in Trump redefining his concept of a wall (again), and then fudging (again) on the Pacific-to-Gulf distance of it. Recently he suggested he’d support a fence of “artistically designed steel slats.” A barrier like that would function like a wall, so he could claim victory and brag about getting more money for border security, though not the $5 billion he originally sought.

A barrier like that would also be not much different from many sections of the border right now, so Dems could live with it, especially if Trump would relent on legalizing status for the “Dreamers.” The president has said many times he’d do that, so in theory all of these puzzle pieces could fit together.

But getting from here to there is not guaranteed, and nothing is going to happen soon. Trump could flip-flop again and insist upon an actual concrete wall, or Democrats could say that a steel-slat fence is too much like a wall (even though you can see through it).

The real victims in this tug-of-war are the 800,000 federal workers who aren’t getting paid in the meantime. Even though they will receive back pay eventually, the bills don’t stop coming. It’s a real hardship for some decidedly non-wealthy people. If they weren’t all Democrats when the shutdown began, as Trump said, they will be afterward.

Thomas Taschinger, TTaschinger@BeaumontEnterprise.com, is the editorial page editor of The Beaumont Enterprise. Follow him on Twitter at @PoliticalTom

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