border wall

Trump Quietly Laying Groundwork for Massive Surrender on Border Wall

The president is cruising for a bruising as border funding talks drift to conclusion. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Getty Images

For several days now, congressional negotiators have been working on a border-security appropriations deal. But there has been no public indication of whether the results will satisfy the president, who was rattling his saber on the subject as recently as the State of the Union address. Now there is growing evidence that he is inching up to the finish line for what may represent the mother of all surrenders, at least according to these signals from the New York Times:

On Capitol Hill, House and Senate conferees were nearing an agreement that could offer the president around $2 billion in funding for physical barriers, a number, still subject to change, that could result in a deal as early as Monday.

Two-billion dollars? That’s barely more than the $1.6 billion Trump could have secured back in December when he instead decided to shut down the federal government. Could he possibly accept that? Looks like it:

[M]embers of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which had earlier pushed Mr. Trump to take an uncompromising line on wall funding, met with him on Thursday, and they indicated that any number above $2 billion would satisfy them for now.

There’s absolutely no reason these hard-liners would have to set that number as a benchmark unless the White House wanted them to bless it. And once it’s out there, Democrats have even less reason to accept anything a dime higher. Politico suggests Trump has finally boxed himself in and must surrender:

Inside the White House, the Trump team is increasingly aware that the president is trapped.

Facing a Republican Party unwilling to back another government shutdown or a national emergency declaration to build his border wall, President Donald Trump is in an unfamiliar position, according to multiple White House officials and lawmakers: prepared, potentially, to accept a compromise foisted on him by Congress.

Trump could, in theory, accept the deal and pocket the $2 billion while claiming he’ll find other ways to plus up the money to reach the arbitrary but endlessly reiterated $5.7 billion goal he set for himself. Using a national emergency declaration to get there, as noted by Politico, is increasingly unlikely:

Republicans have warned the White House against testing the president’s emergency authority …

Prominent conservative publications from National Review to The Wall Street Journal editorial board have also opposed the move, the latter warning it would “set a bad precedent that conservatives who believe in the separation of powers could live to regret.”

Trump also might lose a vote in the Senate if he followed through with an emergency declaration. Just four Republicans would have to oppose him for a resolution of disapproval to be passed — an embarrassing outcome that would force him to issue his first veto.

There has been vague talk, much of it emanating from Mike Mulvaney, that the White House might find some other way via executive authority to move money around for border-wall purposes. But we’re probably talking about a lot less than the billions Trump has demanded:

A more modest executive order has been under review by the White House counsel’s office for weeks, which Mulvaney has termed “legal executive authority.” [But it’s] likely to provide much less money than what the president has been demanding for a border wall.

So far the conservative commissars who have attacked Trump for previous signs of irresolution on the border wall have remained pretty quiet, despite the white flag the House Freedom Caucus seems to be hoisting on his account. Perhaps they are relying on his history of unpredictability, reflected in this random mixed signal the White House issued this very morning:

This contradicts absolutely everything else we’re hearing from Washington, and may just represent some bluster before the Big Cave. If so, this time Trump is not going to be able to pretend that he’s anything other than a big ol’ loser in a game he created all by himself.

Trump Quietly Lays Groundwork for Surrender on Border Wall