Trump got shut out in shutdown
President Donald Trump was able to round up some staffers to applaud his announcement Friday that the partial government shutdown had ended, and even say with a straight face, “I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to … reopen the federal government.” But only a fool would swallow that spin. This was a clearcut defeat for him — the worst of his presidency — and a resounding victory for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
How can you tell? It’s easy: the part about no money for a border wall.
That was Trump’s demand for ending the shutdown, and it was cast aside (again) like an empty campaign promise. Which is all it ever was. This is the third or fourth time Trump has backed down from firm, no-compromise demands to get border bucks or else.
He has also bizarrely refused previous deals that would have actually given him money for a border wall in exchange for easing up on the Dreamers — which even he said he wanted to do. In January 2018, he was pressured by hardliners to turn down a deal for $25 billion in wall funding if the Dreamers could get legal status. That’s way more than the $5.7 billion he was insisting on this go-around. If you can make sense of all that, your last name is probably Trump or Kushner.
Worse yet for him, House Democrats know they thumped him and will be in no mood to offer him more than the thinnest fig leaf, if that, on the negotiations that will take place over the next three weeks. It’s surreal to think that a Democratic House would roll over for him on border wall funding when he couldn’t get that from a Republican House over the first two years of his presidency. (Besides, wasn’t Mexico supposed to pay for this wall anyway?)
For now, Trump is hiding behind a threat to declare a national emergency if the negotiations fail and build a border wall anyway with federal money appropriated for other purposes. Even with friendly Republican judges, there’s no way that survives the inevitable court challenge. A fundamental principle of federal law is that only Congress can decide how to spend tax dollars. A president can’t just take money for, say disaster relief, and repurpose it for wall construction. It’s not even clear that this could be done for a true “national emergency” like a foreign invasion, much less a phony “emergency” like illegal immigration, which has actually been trending downward.
The bottom line in this mess is that a “big beautiful wall” from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico will never be built. It would be incredibly expensive — and ineffective. It would also take years to construct. For these reasons, Republicans in Congress never got behind it, and even Trump was content to focus on other priorities, like repealing Obamacare (unsuccessfully) or cutting taxes (successfully).
Trump might get a better fence out of these talks in exchange for easing up on the Dreamers, but that’s about it. The new fencing won’t cover the entire border, and in fact won’t be much different than the 700 miles of fencing already in place. Trump is already hinting this will be his fallback when he said Friday, “We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier.”
The bigger takeaway from the shutdown showdown is that Trump will not enjoy the next two years of his term.
House Democrats have tasted blood in the first month of their power, and they will not back down. Traditional Democrats dislike Trump, while the new round of House members elected in November truly despise him. The battle over the shutdown has united and strengthened them.
From here on out, they will investigate and subpoena the administration relentlessly, and a lot of dark secrets will be pried out. It will be like the five-week shutdown, nasty and divisive.
Heaven only knows what this ordeal will do to our country over the next 24 months, and how it will affect the 2020 presidential race, but it won’t be good.
Thomas Taschinger, TTaschinger@BeaumontEnterprise.com, is the editorial page editor of The Beaumont Enterprise. Follow him on Twitter at @PoliticalTom