Congress works out a border security deal
Trump: I’ll find the money elsewhere.
President Trump this week insisted that he would find some way to fully fund a wall on the southern border even as he prepared to sign a congressional border security bill that would only pay for 55 miles of new fencing along the 1,954-mile boundary with Mexico. The bipartisan bill worked out by congressional negotiators to avoid another partial government shutdown includes just $1.375 billion for border fencing in Texas, much less than the $5.7 billion Trump demanded for building more than 200 additional miles of a steel-slat wall. But with the bill expected to pass both houses of Congress, Trump grudgingly admitted that he had little choice but to support it. “I don’t want to see a shutdown,” Trump said.
The bill includes several concessions from Democrats, who backed away from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s insistence that the border deal not include even one dollar for new barriers. Democrats also dropped a demand to dramatically slash the number of beds for detainees held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from 49,000 to as low as 16,500, in order to force ICE to focus on detaining illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. Instead, the bill cuts the number of beds down to 40,000. A frustrated Trump vowed to find “other methods” for building the wall. That could involve declaring a national emergency and redirecting existing funds, including for the military and disaster relief—which would almost certainly bring legal challenges.
What the editorials said
What “a lousy deal,” said the National Review. Trump ended up with even less money for border fencing than the $1.6 billion contained in the bipartisan Senate compromise he rejected in December, triggering a 35-day government shutdown. Congressional Republicans have no appetite for another pointless shutdown fight. At least Pelosi was forced to put up some money for border barriers. Democrats were also thwarted in their quest to hamstring ICE. “So, the cup is a quarter full.”
The border deal allows “both teams to claim a partial victory—in some cases over the same provision,” said The New York Times. Democrats can boast that they technically “cut” the number of ICE detention beds, while Republicans can point out that there is enough wiggle room in how Cabinet departments are funded to pay for as many as 58,500 beds. But House Democrats were clearly the real winners, because they successfully denied the president almost all of the $5.7 billion in wall funding he demanded. “Congress, like Mexico, will not pay for Mr. Trump’s wall.”
What the columnists said
“Trump can still get his wall,” said Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post, he just needs to find better leverage. Last year, Congress agreed to temporarily lift spending caps set under the Obama-era budget sequester for two years. If Congress doesn’t lift spending caps for 2020, there will be $55 billion in automatic cuts to nondefense programs. “Democrats may not fear another shutdown, but will they really sacrifice $55 billion for domestic priorities next year just to deny Trump a measly $5.7 billion for a physical border barrier?”
It’s time to take the deal and move on, said Henry Olsen, also in The Washington Post. Trying to fund the wall by any means necessary “would delight many conservatives.” But the hard truth is that a majority of Americans don’t support building more wall. Declaring a national emergency would only erode the president’s political capital further while strengthening the Democrats. “Conservatives should give Trump, and themselves, the time needed to change minds about the wall and to improve their chances of winning in 2020.”
Trump is already trying to con his supporters into thinking he’s won, said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com. This week he ludicrously tweeted that the wall is “being built as we speak.” And instead of the usual “Build the Wall!” signs at Trump rallies, attendees are now waving ones saying “Finish the Wall!” In the end, Trump’s wall fight was nothing but several months of “kabuki theater,” said Matt Ford in NewRepublic.com. That time and energy would have been better spent on literally any other legislative project—combating the opioid crisis, infrastructure funding, drug-price reform. “Instead it went toward soothing the president’s bruised ego and burnishing his tattered self-image.”
Cover Illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Newscom, AP, Newscom