President Trump has signed a stopgap bill to reopen the government. Some say that he has caved to the Democratic Party and Nancy Pelosi’s demands, and conceded his stance regarding the funding for the U.S.-Mexico border barrier. True, the bill does not provide for the border funding, but it does set up an interesting dilemma for the Democrats.
Led by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democrats have said all along that they would negotiate spending on border funding if and only if President Trump reopened the government. That is precisely what he did. The bill signed Friday will fund the targeted agencies through February 15. That is a rather short period, and the can that just got kicked down the road will be once more in play.
A Different Story to Spin
When the impasse started, President Trump said he would take the blame for the government shutdown. Whether he thought that would be the outcome or not, most polls show the public placed the blame at his feet. Now, he did not get there all by himself; the Democrats refused to negotiate. The president offered several plans, made repeated offers that in the past the Democrats had been fighting for, all to no avail. More than anyone, Pelosi dug in her high heels and refused to budge. She and her party flooded the airwaves with emotional soundbites purporting that the wall was immoral and ineffective. The message was carefully crafted. The Democrats spun the “wall” which is not a wall, but a system of barriers. They described the wall as a continuous concrete structure stretching thousands of miles all along the southern border. This was never the actual case.
The barrier was to be placed in areas of high traffic, as designated by the Border Patrol, and not in areas that didn’t need a barrier. I watched a CNN news report asking a Texas sheriff if he supported the wall. Per the report, “No he did not.” Of course, he did not need a wall or a barrier or even a fence in his county. As the interview went on, the sheriff showed the border area for which he was responsible. It had a sheer 100-foot cliff along the Rio Grande between Mexico and his country’s border. There was never a plan to build a barrier in a place that had such naturally unforgiving terrain, but that fact made no difference on the spin the reporter gave. Gleefully, he reported that even Texas sheriffs did not want a wall.
CNN’s Jim Acosta did his best a few weeks ago to show that the areas where border barriers had been built were not needed. The area he showed on TV was not a wall but a fence-like barrier made of steel. He said, “I see no imminent danger. There are no migrants trying to rush toward this fence. In fact, it was quite tranquil.”
He seemed to miss the point entirely. It was quiet because there was a barrier. No caravans were using that area because of the structure being in place. Acosta tried to make the case that the wall did not work. What he did was prove the barrier was effective and did precisely what it was designed to do.
In approximately three weeks the nation will face the impasse again, but this time there will be a different narrative. The shutdown that just ended was tough on the country as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle. There were shaky alliances and wavering loyalties. Several Democrats defected away from Pelosi’s hard line, as did several Republican senators when it came to standing with the president. The blame for the shutdown spilled over to all involved.
Next time, if there is another shutdown, the story will be different. Nancy Pelosi has said she would only negotiate after the government was open. And now it is. If the Democrat-led house refuses to consider border barrier funding, they will have played the only card they had. The president has placed the issue firmly in the Democrats’ corner. Refusal to negotiate now will be seen as disingenuous. The Democrats will waste the only leverage they have if they fail to come to the table after the president has opened this door. Failure to meet at the table and work out the reforms the president offered for the border barrier funding will be all on the Democrats.
DACA, which the Democrats have fought for, will be pulled from the offers the president made. The H-1B visa issue will be withdrawn, as will many other programs and changes to the immigration policies. Programs the Democrats could have had will be gone. All a missed opportunity simply because Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are more interested in resisting anything the president does. They do this at the expense of the American people. Continued refusal to negotiate will shine a very bright light on the untrustworthiness of the Democrat leadership and their constant attempt to cater to the most radical wing of their party.
An Instrument in the President’s Toolbox
When February 15th comes around, all the cards will be on the table. There will be little time to stake out positions. Either the negotiations will proceed with a possible outcome or the president will pull out the national emergency card and play it. Already, the Pentagon is working up plans and procedures to facilitate the border barrier construction should that option be selected. The president can very quickly make the case that the Democrats never planned to negotiate, used the shutdown as a political ploy, and refused to make any good-faith deal.
He could once again shut down the government, this time pointing to the betrayal of trust the Republicans gave Pelosi and her party. When Congress passed its bipartisan bill to reopen the government and the president signed it, he counted on the guarantee that negotiations would commence. If the Democrats go back on that commitment, they will have squandered any cooperation they may have garnered from the Republicans.
The National Emergency Option
Under a national emergency declaration, the funding for barrier construction can come from several sources. One source is the military. The military not only has the expertise to construct the barrier but also has the funds. Those funds can come from several programs within the Department of Defense budget. Federal agencies responsible for immigration also have funds; though not as much as the Pentagon, they have money that could be used. Aid to other countries and aid for national disasters could also be tapped. What the president and his team would have to do is look at the many laws and avenues that are at his disposal and stitch together a program that in the aggregate would be able to divert funds to the border barrier project.
Scholars both opposing and supporting a declaration of national emergency have ground to stand on. Those that oppose the use of a national emergency declaration are quick to point out that if the Trump administration used this option, then future presidents would be more likely to take the same path when they were blocked by the legislature. Those on the other side say there are many examples of past presidents declaring a national emergency with the effect of putting measures in place. This allows the president to allocate or repurpose funds without going through the legislature, which so far has been inept in making any progress in the border barrier proposal.
Should the president choose to declare a national emergency, something very possible in February, the Democrats will undoubtedly challenge it in court. This is a given, but the courts have not been entirely on their side. There is precedence for a declaration of a national emergency, and with the steady stream of caravans traveling from Central America with the seeming aid of the Mexican government, the case for a national crisis is easier to make.
The challenges to the president’s emergency declarations will viably reach the Supreme Court. There, the president has a pretty good batting average. Add to that the possibility of another Supreme Court Justice appointment in the near future by the president…and the border barrier will be a reality.