It’s motif #1, the President bragging about having the biggest, being the smartest, (“I alone can fix it,”), master negotiator and uber deal maker. We can dispute his hyperbolic claims, but we all can agree that under his leadership Americans now have the longest-lasting (partial) government shutdown in our nation’s history. 800,000 government workers and countless others dependent on their services are collateral damage. But for what?
They’re hostages in an extortion plot for $5 billion to pander to his anti-immigration base, fulfilling a leading campaign promise. We know from blackmailers and protection racketeers that this would likely not be a one-time deal. Estimates to build the wall as high as Trump envisioned are in the $30 billion range. So, there could be another shutdown-shakedown next year. He hasn’t even spent the funds Congress authorized for border security last year, and nor specified in detail what this $5.7 billion would be used for.
National emergency? It wasn’t for the past two years when Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress. And current plans don’t call for full implementation of his emergency proposals for years.
Trump would rather sustain his manufactured crisis, keep his anti-immigrant scare tactics alive to whip up and distract his supporters than solve real problems. He continues to lie about real border security issues.
For every cherry-picked example of illegal-immigrant violence, there are multiple horror stories where the perps are long-time citizens. The crime rate among non-legal immigrants is consistently lower than among the general population.
Steel barriers, the alternative to his concrete wall, were not, as he claims, a Democrat request, and NBC illustrated that one of his vaunted steel slat prototypes can be cut with Home Depot purchased tools. Trump appears to have ignored evidence of the sophisticated tunnels created by El Chapo and other Mexican drug lords to bring drugs into the US at depths far below the pilings of any wall or fence proposals. So, too, would the barriers not block drones and similar technologies designed to go over them. Contrary to Trump, most illegal drugs come into the country through legal points of entry, and some of the most dangerous opioids are flow in from China. If the President is really serious about the impact of drugs coming in from Mexico, what is his policy to cut US demand for the product?
Children smuggled by so-called coyotes and forced to enter are fewer than the one percent of family apprehensions, and illegal immigration at the southern border is at a 14-year low. A far greater potential problem is the number of visitors why fly into the US lawfully and overstay their visas. Canadians lead the world in US visa overstays.
There are legitimate needs for fixed security barriers along the southern border, and some of the fencing already there needs repair. But most of the border between US and Mexico is the Rio Grande and hundreds of miles east of San Diego Tijuana are mountains. It’s unclear to what extent the administration has considered the myriad legal, cultural, agricultural and environmental issues in establishing a full border barrier. Texas property owners are still litigating eminent domain lawsuits against Obama-era border security moves. If Trump stumbles forward here, and makes things worse by reallocating post-Harvey flood remediation funds, he could turn Texas blue faster than Beto O’Rourke can.
So, what to do? Trump is digging in, fearing that this is his “read my lips, no new taxes” moment, an existential threat to his re-election. For new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this is also a defining moment. Neither wants to back down. The ball is in the court of Senate Republicans. They can go big or go small. Going big means to make it a Nixon-goes-to- China moment and put forward a bipartisan immigration bill, including enhanced border security, a DACA deal and other provisions supported by most members. Or they can go small, just keep the government open with continuing resolutions and continue to fight.
Either way, the President has more options than just signing something he abhors or vetoing the bill and challenging the Congress to override. He can do what other Presidents have done when faced with important legislation that included elements they couldn’t abide. Use Article 1 Section 7, and let it become law after ten days on his desk without his signature. But to get to this point Mitch McConnell will have to be more statesman than partisan hack. Anyone taking bets?