The new negotiations on border security
After President Trump agreed to end the longest government shutdown in history without money for a border wall, Congress this week started negotiations on a possible long-term deal to keep the government from shutting down again in three weeks. The 35-day partial government shutdown ended with Trump signing a bill to temporarily fund the government at current levels. For weeks, Trump insisted he would not sign any bill to reopen the government unless it included $5.7 billion to go toward building about 200 miles of additional barriers on the Mexico border. But when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to bend to that demand, Trump ultimately relented. Polls showed most Americans blamed Trump for the shutdown, and GOP legislators were becoming increasingly nervous about the mounting consequences of not paying 800,000 affected federal workers, including major airport delays.
A 17-member bipartisan panel made up of members of the House and Senate appropriations committees has until Feb. 15 to come up with a deal acceptable to both sides. It’s unclear what that compromise would look like. Democrats have repeatedly refused to provide money for a literal “wall.” Instead, they’ve proposed more money for Border Patrol agents and surveillance technology, or what House Majority Whip James Clyburn has called a “smart wall.” Congressional leaders have said it’s unlikely that a deal will include broader immigration reform because it’s too divisive. President Trump gave the negotiations a “less than 50-50” chance of succeeding, threatening to declare a national emergency in order to obtain wall funding if Congress doesn’t approve it first. But another shutdown, he told The Wall Street Journal, is “certainly an option.”
What the editorials said
Trump’s shutdown “was a cruel joke,” said The New York Times. After holding the government hostage for 35 days, the president finally agreed to the stopgap funding solution “that Democrats had been pitching for weeks—one that contains not one dollar in wall funding.” All the while, “federal workers lined up at food banks, sought unemployment benefits, and took backup gigs driving for Uber.” Trump’s approval rating has dropped to 37 percent. If he goes forward with the “wildly unpopular” idea of declaring a national emergency at the border to bypass Congress and seize funds allocated for the military or disaster relief, his standing will probably sink even lower.
Actually, the border wall standoff accomplished “something important,” said The Washington Times. “It revealed just how radical the Democrats have become on the issue of immigration.” The $5.7 billion Trump requested to build new fencing along porous sections of the border is “no more than a rounding error against the largesse of the federal budget.” Democrats have voted for such barriers in the past, but they’re determined to sabotage Trump’s re-election by turning “the wall” into a broken campaign promise. Having tasted blood, they’re unlikely to back down now. Democrats are refusing to protect the country for “nakedly political ends.”
What the columnists said
Speaker Pelosi has been vindicated, said Ezra Klein in Vox.com. When she picked up the gavel, some progressives doubted that she would serve as an effective foil to Trump, but those doubts have been erased. Pelosi kept her caucus together while staring down Trump, who blinked. Trump even meekly surrendered when Pelosi postponed the State of the Union until the shutdown was over. (She has now invited him to give it on Feb. 5.) These days, “you don’t hear many House Democrats grumbling about Pelosi’s leadership. But you hear plenty of Republicans lamenting Trump’s.”
“There is no doubt” that Democrats won this round, said Gerald Seib in The Wall Street Journal, but there are political risks ahead. If Democrats continue to reject any compromise that includes some border fencing, they might “come to be seen by middle-of-the-road voters as the unreasonable party.” Trump has an opportunity to reclaim the advantage, said Noah Rothman in CommentaryMagazine.com. He should call the Democrats’ bluff and abandon “the wall” in exchange for major spending on the other forms of border security that Democrats claim to support: more border agents and new technology to detect unauthorized crossings. While acceptable to party leadership, this proposal will cause an intraparty rift with the Democrats’ activist base, which sees “any border enforcement” as racist and immoral.
“If we really want to get serious about border security,” said Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post, let’s get beyond the partisan games and bring in the experts. A bipartisan commission could study the actual security needs at the border and present the best ways to spend the $5.7 billion, with congressional leaders committing to an up-or-down vote on their recommendations. If that includes physical barriers, so be it. Scoff if you must at blue-ribbon panels, but they’ve worked in the past, including a 1980s effort to reform Social Security. If Congress actually wants to address the southwest border, “the two parties must stop talking past each other.”
“Senate Republicans can’t stomach another shutdown,” said Burgess Everett, Josh Bresnahan, and Sarah Ferris in Politico.com. Half a dozen GOP senators defected to vote for a Democratic plan to end the shutdown last week, with Trump agreeing to reopen the government “before a full-scale revolt unfolded.” For now, they’re hoping for a viable compromise to come out of the conference committee, to save them from having to publicly defy the president in order to fund the government. The shutdown may have been painful enough “to convince Congress never to let it happen again,” said Jim Newell in Slate.com. Leaders in both parties have signaled support for legislation that would automatically fund the government at existing levels during an impasse, with a handful of proposals being considered as part of a potential budget deal. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he’d support going even further. “You want to know how you’ll never have a shutdown again?” he asked. “Let’s not pay the members of Congress and Senate.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Getty (2), Newscom ■