During his triumphant declaration of surrender in the Rose Garden last week, Donald Trump suggested that he never intended his border wall to be a literal wall.
“We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea,” the president explained. “Our proposed structures will be in predetermined high-risk locations that have been specifically identified by the Border Patrol to stop illicit flows of people and drugs.”
These remarks made it difficult to understand why the president had ever decided to shut down the government in the name of his “proposed structures.” After all, House Democrats had passed a funding bill in January that had included $1.6 billion for fortifying “physical barriers” in select, high-risk locations. Which happens to be $1.6 billion more than they’re willing to offer now.
On Thursday, House Democrats unveiled their opening bid in negotiations over a border security bill that, God willing, will prevent the president from shuttering the federal government when financing expires once again on February 15. Axios provides a succinct rundown of its contents:
• $98 million more than what was allocated in FY18 for 1,000 additional CBP officers.
• $25 million more for “small port of entry technologies.”
No funding for any additional Border Patrol agents.
• $502 million “to address humanitarian concerns at the border, including medical care, more efficient transportation, food and other consumables, and to support at least one prototype temporary holding facility (72 hours or less) with better conditions and services for migrants.”
• “$400 million for border security technology procurement and deployment.”
• For U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “$7 million above the request for additional staff in the Office of Professional Responsibility/Office of Detention Oversight to begin ramping up the number of detention facility inspections from once every three years to twice per year for each facility.”
Nevertheless, House speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled Thursday that she might be willing to bring back the “fence” funds her caucus had previously approved.
“Is there a place where enhanced fencing, Normandy fencing would work? Let them have that discussion,” the Speaker told reporters. “If the president wants to call that a wall, he can call it a wall.”
Now, a conference committee of House and Senate leaders is working to “deliver language that allows Democrats to say they held firm on the wall and Trump to claim victory, all while avoiding another shutdown.” Which is to say, they are trying to find a collecting of verbs and nouns that, when combined, will produce a “Schrödinger’s wall.”
But finding a compromise that satisfies Trump will be challenging, not least because the president’s demands — and descriptions of reality — are not internally coherent. On Thursday, Trump upbraided congressional Democrats for refusing to appropriate wall funding that is “DESPERATELY needed” — right before stipulating that, actually, the “Wall is already being built.” Shortly thereafter, Trump undermined his own core rationale for demanding wall funding, by saying that his voters do not actually care as much about the wall as most people think.
“I was elected partially on this issue,” Trump told Politico. “Not as much as people say, but partially on this issue.”
But the president has also found vindication in internal polling (purportedly) showing that his voters do care deeply about the border wall — and appreciate the radical steps he’s taken to secure it. As Politico reports:
Trump has been buoyed by polling commissioned by his 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, suggesting that the government shutdown wasn’t as damaging to him as several other public polls had shown. He immediately demanded an Oval Office briefing on the poll numbers, which indicated that while a plurality of voters in ten congressional districts blamed Trump for the shutdown, they also supported his push for a border wall.
The polling in question appears to have been conducted — and interpreted — with the sole goal of providing the president with a source of emotional validation. The survey covered ten historically Republican congressional districts that Democrats won last November. In 2016, Trump won these ten districts by an average of 12 percentage points. In the survey that “buoyed” the president, his approval rating among voters in these ten districts is only one percentage point higher than his disapproval rating. Which is to say: The poll that has Trump feeling upbeat appears to suggest that he has lost significant support among swing voters since 2016, an election in which he barely eked out an Electoral College majority on the strength of fewer than 80,000 votes.