Last night in Arizona, the president said a lot of insane (and insanely petty) things that didn’t really matter — and a few that just might. Among the latter was an apparent pledge to shut down the government next month if Congress fails to appropriate significant funds for his border wall.
“If we have to close down that government,” Donald Trump said, “we are going to build that wall.”
Now, this president has a knack for taking firm stands, and then sitting the second he starts to feel a strain in his legs. And the House, Senate, and government of Mexico have all already called Trump’s various bluffs on the border wall.
Back in April, the White House signaled that Trump was prepared to veto any spending bill that did not include funds for his monument to American xenophobia — even if that meant triggering a government shutdown on the morning of his 100th day.
This threat never made a whole lot of sense. Essentially, Trump’s message to Democrats boiled down to: Vote for something your base vehemently opposes, or else I will sabotage my own approval rating and that of my party. Republicans have unified control of the federal government. If that government grinds to a halt, the majority of Americans aren’t going to blame Chuck Schumer and those “obstructionist Democrats.” Eventually, this reality was conveyed to the commander-in-chief, and the White House backed down.
So, there’s reason to think Trump’s latest red line was drawn in erasable ink. But there’s also reason to worry that Trump may prove more intransigent now than he was four months ago. The failure of Obamacare repeal has made the president all the more anxious to follow through on his other signature campaign promises. More critically, Trump may have realized that there will never be a “right time” to force the wall issue (while still failing to recognize that this is because he can’t make Congress pass things it does not wish to).
The wall was the very heart of Trump’s campaign. Like the candidate himself, this “policy” was so unencumbered by mundane political and geographic realities that it was capable of giving full expression to Republican voters’ longing for protection from demographic change, and/or the cornucopia of evil impulses that they’d projected onto alien others. To admit that the wall works as a symbol but fails as a policy would be to cop to one of the Trump campaign’s central lies. And, according to Politico, the president has little interest in doing that:
Trump has told his advisers he will not accept a deal on other issues without money for the wall “and it has to be real money,” said one senior White House official.
Trump has told senior White House officials and advisers he would be willing to go to whatever means necessary to get money for the wall, a contentious claim even among his advisers.
He hasn’t given specific amounts of money that he wants, but “enough to really start building it,” said one person who spoke to him this weekend.
… Two people who have spoken to Trump said he sees not building the wall as a personal embarrassment — and has shown more interest in building the wall than in other issues, like the upcoming budget negotiations.
Trump is not going to get enough funding to begin construction on a wall that spans America’s entire southern border. Any new spending bill will be subject to a Democratic filibuster in the Senate. And even if Trump didn’t need Democratic votes, Republicans who represent areas where the wall would be more than a symbol have little interest in building it. As the Hill notes:
Republicans from border states such as Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Reps. Will Hurd (Texas), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Steve Pearce (N.M.) have expressed doubts about the plan:
“The construction of a physical wall on the southern border will never be the solution. The only way to secure the border is through the use of modern technology and a comprehensive strategy for patrolling the border,” Pearce said in July after voting against the $1.6 billion House provision to fund some 28 miles of new border wall, plus a combined 46 miles of new and secondary fencing.
The provision passed, but the Senate has not yet taken up the measure.
Still, there are plenty of congressional Republicans who want that wall as much as Trump does. And the president’s brainless brinksmanship could inspire the House Freedom Caucus, which shares the president’s belief that sabotaging the government’s capacity to function is a sound strategy for passing contentious legislation. Which is to say: Even if the president isn’t actually prepared to trigger a shutdown with a veto, his bluster could inspire Ryan’s caucus to shut down the government for him.
It’s also possible that congressional Democrats could use Trump’s obsession with wall funding to their advantage. Appropriating a couple billion dollars for a wall in the desert would be bad public policy. But such a provision would hurt far fewer people than most of the GOP’s other goals for the federal budget. If throwing Trump a symbolic amount of border funding can win Team Blue new appropriations that strengthen Obamacare, or the maintenance of domestic programs for low-income people at their current funding levels, it might be worth playing ball.
“The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it,” Donald Trump once paid someone to write. “That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.”
If his nostrils aren’t clogged, Chuck Schumer should be getting a whiff of vital fluid right now.