Solving Shutdown Crisis May Depend On What A “Wall” Is
Is it possible that the solution to the government shutdown is letting the President pretend he got funding for his border wall even though he didn't?
The New York Times notes this morning that resolving the government shutdown may end up coming down to how to define what constitutes a “wall”:
With a partial government shutdown stretching past Day 5, the impasse over funding a wall at the southwestern border has highlighted the debate over effective border security, with a breakthrough possibly hinging on a semantic argument: What is a wall?
Lawmakers will return to Capitol Hill on Thursday to resume negotiations over either a stopgap spending bill to reopen nine federal departments and several government agencies or broader measures to fund the government through September. But the White House and Democrats remain at odds over the $5 billion that President Trump is demanding for a wall, his signature campaign promise.
Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the majority whip, told House members on Wednesday that no votes were expected on Thursday. That signaled that the shutdown would almost certainly stretch through the weekend — and probably into the new year. More than likely, it will fall to House Democrats to pass legislation reopening the government when they take control on Jan. 3.
The president told reporters on Wednesday that he would do “whatever it takes” to ensure funding was provided for the wall he once bragged Mexico would pay for.
“We need a wall,” Mr. Trump said during a visit to American troops in Iraq. “We need safety for our country. Even from this standpoint.”
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader who is expected to be elected speaker next week, told USA Today: “He says, ‘We’re going to build a wall with cement, and Mexico’s going to pay for it’ while he’s already backed off of the cement. Now he’s down to, I think, a beaded curtain or something. I’m not sure where he is.”
Democrats say they have little reason to negotiate. The administration has spent only 6 percent of the $1.7 billion allocated during the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years for physical barriers on the border, they said. About $1.3 billion was designated in 2018 for different types of fencing in areas that would have covered about 96 miles, but rising costs have shaved off 12 miles.
With so little spent, Democrats argue, Congress has no business more than doubling this year’s allocation. But a Republican aide said that all but $70 million of the money allocated in 2018 had been committed to border security projects.
Mr. Trump and his conservative allies are trying to paint their opponents as unwilling to invest in border security, while Democrats are working to draw a distinction between the current showdown and past border fights, when Congress approved billions of dollars in funding for hundreds of miles of fencing, barriers, drones and other measures to impede illegal immigration.
A wall “would be spending an enormous amount of money that would not achieve the taxpayers’ goal,” said Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and one of eight senators who negotiated a bipartisan immigration overhaul that passed the Senate in 2013.
“There is not a one-size-fits-all solution — a wall, slats, whatever — and nobody who has ever looked at this question has said that that is the solution,” he added.
While a final decision has not been made, Ms. Pelosi will most likely seek a swift vote on the legislation the House spurned before funding lapsed: the Senate’s stopgap spending bill would provide funding through Feb. 8, according to a House Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations.
Because next month will herald a new Congress, the Senate will have to pass it again. And there is no guarantee that Mr. Trump will sign it.
“We are still open to discussion,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “I would say that the wall is the problem. Most people we talk to say the wall is a political answer to a problem that really requires a thoughtful, a more pragmatic response.”
Whether Mr. Trump signs the bill might depend on whether he and Democrats can agree to disagree on what a border barrier is called. Democrats have accepted fencing in the past. Mr. Trump has taken to intermittently calling his barrier a wall or “aesthetically pleasing steel slats.”
In the three years since he first started pushing the idea of a border wall, the President has changed his rhetoric about the border wall in several respects. The most notable, of course, has been the fact that he has largely abandoned the ridiculous idea that Mexico would pay for the wall, something that Mexico made clear that it would not do. Over time, that particular part of his “plan” has evolved into the recently proposed ridiculous idea that Mexico is “paying” for the wall by virtue of the new trade pact between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, a claim that analysts say makes no sense whatsoever. Additionally, Trump’s definition of what constitutes a “wall” seems to change depending on his own bizarre whims. In the beginning, he seemed to be clearly referring to a tall, thick concrete wall that literally stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico,, a structure that would be some 1,500 miles long and would require construction in areas where thanks to the physical difficulties of the terrain and other factors, physical walls simply aren’t practical. More recently, though, Trump has been talking about a “wall” that consists of a variety of things, including simple repairs to existing fencing and a recognition that we don’t need to build a wall in the mountainous areas of the border region since trying to cross the border there is so difficult. And, finally, of course, he’s moved away from the idea of a concrete wall to a metal slat structure of some kind.
Taking this into account, it’s possible that a deal can be made without Democrats having to concede anything regarding a border wall per se if a way can be found for the President to be able to walk away from the table claiming he got funding for his wall even though he really didn’t. The beginnings of that possibility can be seen in the reports that were floating around Capitol Hill regarding funding for “border security” that would amount to somewhere in the range of $1.6 billion to $2.5 billion. These include proposals being floated by Vice-President Pence and incoming White House Chief of Staff and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney prior to the shutdown. Whether or not a deal can be made at that level is unclear, but if all it takes is finding language that lets the President pretend he got funding for his wall then perhaps this is an idea worth exploring.