President Trump finds himself in a political box of his own making. Return to the budget compromise he once supported, along with a bipartisan majority on Capitol Hill, and hard-line conservatives will howl. They will cudgel him for folding on funding for a border wall. At the same time, the president lacks the votes in Congress to win approval of the $5 billion he wants. He didn’t help himself when he declared recently he would be “proud” to shut down the federal government over his proposed money for the wall.
Will Democrats make the concessions he demands? Not without getting something in return, or the outline of comprehensive immigration reform, big funding for border security combined with a pathway to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants. Such bargaining isn’t in the works, and Democrats will have heightened leverage in a matter of days, when they gain the House majority.
The government shutdown, the third of the year and now in its fifth day, is about the president seeking what political reality won’t permit. Thus, these assessments from fellow Republicans:
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania described the shutdown as “much ado about very little.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told CNN the shutdown is “a made-up fight, so the president can look like he’s fighting,” adding: “Candidly, it’s juvenile.”
According to Vox, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan explained his opposition to the president’s funding for the border, “I want immigration reform, and border security has to be an integral part of that, not on its own.”
In many ways, the president is in an ideal position to deliver the comprehensive reform the country needs. That is even more the case with Democrats adding legislative muscle. The president appears convinced this may be his last chance to achieve the wall funding he seeks. Yet Democrats have shown a willingness to accept if not a wall then substantial increases in border security resources in return for addressing their immigration priorities.
What is required is the president acknowledging hard truths and numbers. To be sure, he campaigned on building a wall and seeing Mexico pay for it. Few viewed the latter as anything more than bluster. Polls still show the wall isn’t popular with Americans, or with security experts who cite its high cost and ineffectiveness. In the end, the president narrowly won the election, amid much controversy yet to be sorted fully concerning Russian interference. A month ago, voters ended the Republican majority in the House, Democrats winning by a margin that recalled the rout of the Watergate era.
These aren’t the circumstances in which a president makes demands and wholly carries the day, no matter the pleas from extreme ranks. The president seemed to understand when Vice President Mike Pence told Senate Republicans the president would sign a compromise to the keep the government operating into early next year, the discussion of border security to be continued. Then, the president changed his mind. The shutdown followed, though, fortunately, it involves just one-quarter of the government, lawmakers already having approved funding for the rest.
On Thursday, Congress picks up again. Yet the prospects for a quick deal and relief for the affected government workers appear bleak. If news reports indicate the White House now is beginning to budge, it should know the shutdown likely includes its own price — for failing to heed reality and again bringing unnecessary turmoil.