By Robert A. Vella
On February 15th, the continuing budget resolution just passed by Congress and signed by the President will expire. Speculation is already running wild about another costly shutdown over a border wall which is primarily coming from a faction of the political Left best described as timid and awestruck of the Trump phenomenon. This faction is “awestruck” in the sense that it sees Trump and his rabid supporters as evil incarnate which cannot be resisted through mortal means. The inference here to religion should not go unnoticed because individuals who hold this view were typically raised in devoutly Christian families even though many of them have since abandoned their faith.
However, looking at this situation through the cold but clearer lens of politics sees a very different picture. It paints the portrait of a president who was defeated by his own hand. Trump was always going to lose the border wall fight because holding the nation hostage by shutting down the federal government would raise the ire of the American people and eventually force congressional Republicans to abandon him. Astute political observers knew this from the beginning. and they have now been proven correct.
The “awestruck” crowd was quick to credit a political messiah – in the personage of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – for Trump’s defeat, but this too is inaccurate. While it is true that the Democratic Party leadership and membership acted skillfully and resolutely, the fact remains that Trump would not have capitulated unless his support among Republicans in the U.S. Senate hadn’t suddenly collapsed in a heap. From: ‘I hope we get some common sense’: Republicans reeling from political damage caused by shutdown
President Trump and the GOP’s confrontation over a border wall not only provoked the longest government shutdown in history but inflicted serious political damage and deepening rifts in a party reeling from midterm losses and facing daunting challenges in 2020.
In private, irritated Republican senators lashed out at each other over the 35-day shutdown — with conservative hard-liners and moderates attacking Trump’s strategy and his decision to capitulate by reopening the government without winning a dime for his border wall. Many congressional Republicans say they knew the impasse would not end well for the GOP, but went along with Trump in the name of party unity.
Now, with Trump’s approval numbers dropping and Republicans divided in the aftermath, the party is looking to repair the short-term political harm they suffered — even as they face another showdown over the same issue next month.
Interviews with Republican lawmakers and strategists illustrated the frustration and discord within the party over the partial government closure, which Trump said in December he would be “proud” to take responsibility for.
“He put a lot of American federal workers through hell for nothing. This whole idea of building the wall was not something that had any validity on Capitol Hill,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “If this was a such a priority for them, why didn’t they pass it over the last two years?”
Indeed, it was clear from the start of the wall confrontation that it would only get more difficult for Trump to get the desired funding, particularly when Democrats officially took control of the House on Jan. 3. Trump had been talked out of a showdown over the wall in previous spending fights, as congressional Republicans warned him of the potential electoral consequences.
That meant Republicans made no major strides toward wall construction in the first two years of the presidency, focusing instead on a successful push to overhaul the tax code and a failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. There was also never any serious effort to force Mexico to pay for a wall, as Trump had promised dozens of times during his 2016 campaign.
Consequently, there are new political dynamics which will impact the last two years of Trump’s presidency. Through his impulsive and strategically stupid border wall ploy, he has opened up a fissure within the GOP which could possibly widen by further wrongheaded moves and by the impending fallout from criminal investigations especially from those of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose highest priority is maintaining control of that important legislative body, will be extremely reluctant to put his caucus through another politically costly shutdown fight over any issue which his members do not fully support (e.g. Trump’s border wall). If the president attempts to shutdown the government again in three weeks, I would expect McConnell to allow votes on bipartisan continuing budget resolutions and to consider votes to override any presidential veto. I also believe that Trump understands this now. See:
So, where does that leave the president? He has only one alternative remaining and it appears problematic at best. From: Congressional leaders point fingers after shutdown deal
Trump’s willingness to open the government temporarily without making progress on the border wall has frustrated supporters on the right, leaving him to warn that he’d declare a national emergency on the border if Congress doesn’t fund the wall, or a comparable structure.
It’s a warning that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney repeated on Sunday, suggesting that the president is prepared to make such a declaration. “At the end of the day, the president’s commitment is to protect the nation, and he’ll do it either with or without Congress,” Mulvaney said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
But many Republican lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have raised concerns that route may not hold muster in court and could open up Pandora’s Box for future, Democratic, administrations.
“I think it would be a terrible idea. I hope he doesn’t do it,” Rubio said on “Meet the Press,” before committing to fight against the president if he seeks that route.
“I don’t think we’ll have to fight — I’m not sure they’ll end up doing that. I know it’s an option they’ve looked at but now you are at the mercy of a district court somewhere and ultimately an appellate court, ultimately it may not even withstand.”
The only way Democrats might support border wall funding is for DACA recipients (i.e. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) to be given permanent legal status which would be totally unacceptable for Trump’s xenophobic base. A more likely compromise would be for Democrats to agree to more border security funding without specific appropriations for a border wall. This too wouldn’t satisfy Trump supporters, but it would allow the president to claim a modicum of success and allow him an escape route out of this mess he created for himself.