Just as President Donald Trump was rallying crowds in El Paso, Texas, lawmakers apparently had a come to Jesus moment and decided on funding a portion of the southern border wall. That this was prompted by fears that the president would declare a National Emergency is probable, yet details of what the deal involves, so far, indicate that the terms are more a publicity exercise in blame shifting rather than a compromise.
On February 15th, the U.S. government faces another partial shutdown. The president has stated again and again that he wants $5.7 billion to put pen to paper; Democrats have called the wall “immoral” and “ineffective,” so who is willing to blink?
A Double-Edged Sword
While exact details of the proposal are so far sketchy, several indicators have managed to crawl their way out of the swamp.
According to The Hill, congressional sources have said that the package – negotiated by a team of 17 elected lawmakers – would include “$1.375 billion dollars for physical barriers, “with a view to funding “55 new miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley sector.” Falling well short of the asked for amount, this offer also comes with a price tag.
An issue that was on no one’s radar even a week ago is that of the number of beds that Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE) have funded to detain and house illegal immigrants. The root of this is that Democrats want a proposed cap on how many aliens get picked up and processed; the thinking being that if ICE does not have space or funds to house them, ICE won’t pick them up in the first place.
Fox News states that according to their sources:
“… the agreement would provide enough money for 42,774 adult and 2,500 child beds with the goal of reducing that number to approximately 40,250 by the end of September.”
Supporters of the president must be asking themselves if this deal is little more than a face-saving exercise for Democrats.
Cost and Perception
Should the president agree to a vastly reduced sum, his core voting base would likely be disappointed. Now that Trump has broken the magic 50% approval rating barrier – a place he has not seen since March 2017 – he will be looking to shore up support for a protracted 2020 campaign. It is a risk The Donald may have to take if he wants to win over independent voters.
From the Democrat side, it appears that the deal is mostly spin and hot air designed to avoid responsibility for another government shutdown. They could plausibly spin the offer as “a compromise” to assuage Trump and protect workers from fiscal hardship. But make no mistake, this is not about bipartisanship; it is about optics.
The only question that matters is whether Trump sees this proposal as a trap.
Ways and Means
The fact is, President Trump is looking at other ways to fund the border wall project. At his rally in El Paso, he said, “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.” Whether this is through private donations crowdfunded by supporters, or by declaring a National Emergency, or a combination package, it still comes down to optics.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the president is not willing to fold on the border wall issue; as one of his main campaign platforms in 2016, to not achieve his “big, beautiful wall” would be seen as a failure not only by his supporters but also by himself. Getting a wall built will be in many voters’ eyes the crowning glory of his first term, and one that will all but guarantee him a second.
If Democrats can spin Trump’s agreement as a capitulation, then it may not matter if a wall is eventually built, as the president’s brand could be too tarnished to ride the actual wave of success.