Trump Can End Government Shutdown And Achieve Partial Victory By Forcing Democrats to Debate Border Security
The US government shutdown over border wall funding is setting fresh records as it creates a growing list of intensifying problems. Attempted negotiations between the President and Congressional Democrats have barely commenced before they have quickly degenerated into public spectacles due to an impasse over the proposed wall. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans appear unlikely to join their Democratic colleagues any time soon in ending the shutdown by overriding the President’s veto. For his part, President Donald Trump, who feels compelled to achieve a perceived victory at all costs, is trying to find a way out of the self-made crisis through alternative funding paths that would allow him to build his wall by circumventing Congressional approval. Trump would, presumably, sign legislation to open the government once funding for his wall was secure. One potential option entertained by the Trump Administration is the abuse of emergency powers over a non-eminent threat to divert funding to the 234 mile long steel barrier. It is an option that would allow Mr. Trump and Democrats to save face, but it would also create a myriad of legal challenges the President likely could not survive. The simple truth is that one side has to lose to win, but the question is which one.
In many respects, it is actually the Democrats who have far more to lose by yielding to the President. Not only will they enrage key demographics of their voter base by simply giving the President what he wants, especially after Americans were forced to endure the costs of a lengthy government shutdown, their capitulation will encourage the President to utilize crushing pressure tactics on a more regular basis. It is important to recognize the government shutdown is over a relatively trivial budget item and a minor component of border security. At this point, capitulation by Democrats will either guarantee an increased frequency of government shutdowns or increased Executive overreach in terms of setting the legislative agenda of Congress. If the President, in contrast, decides to yield, he will take heat from a minority of his supporters for surrendering, but he can easily frame himself as the responsible party. He can also force Congress to debate border security and devise a public policy solution in line with their Constitutional responsibly by forging a short-term deal that keeps the shutdown threat in place. If the President can accept a good-faith effort on behalf of Democrats, the onus of the next shutdown would be displaced onto Democrats.
In the past, Democrats have supported the construction of barriers along the US-Mexican border. These include the 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act and the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Both authorized hundreds of miles of fencing along the nearly 2,000 mile US-Mexican border that far exceeded the length of Trump’s wall, though the current barrier is larger size. These past legislative attempts also included other provisions that allowed officials to address other aspects of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration to the US has sharply declined in the past decade. Given that the proposed barrier can be breached using common tools, it is actually designed to be easily repaired in anticipation of breaches, Trump’s border wall is intended to simply give US Border Patrol agents additional time to respond to illegal border crossings. The President has requested funds to hire nearly 2,750 Patrol agents and 75 judges to process cases. The problem is that a vast majority of smuggling and human trafficking is not taking place where Trump wants to build his wall.
Aside from using drones, underground tunnels, and waterways to smuggle illicit goods and people into the US, smugglers are using legal border crossings and ports of entry to undertake their operations. The United States needs to invest in the technologies and infrastructure needed to quickly and effectively disrupt smuggling activity in these locations where the majority of illegal border activity is occurring. The US has already invested large sums of money, which are still less than the cost of a real wall, into so-called virtual fences in order to give border patrol agents the resources needed to effectively respond to illegal border crossings and track those who illegally cross into the US. As such, what limited protections the Trump wall offers is probably less significant than most Americans realize. The sum of $5.7 billion is a trivial sum in terms of the US government budget, but the cost-benefit analysis does not likely favor building Trump’s wall. It certainly does not justify the cost of a historic government shutdown in terms of dollars, politics, and civil service as well as the security threats it is creating. That is what an actual debate over the Trump border wall would reveal.
Although an actual debate by legislators would not likely favor the President’s position, he needs to facilitate such a public engagement in order to force Congress to fulfill its Constitutional duty and address border security. That is, if border security is truly the goal of his demands. With that said, the simple truth is that legislators, especially Democrats, cannot support funding for his border wall proposal. Not only did he make it a political non-starter by dramatizing the threat posed by illegal immigration through the use of racially-charged fear warmongering, he has essentially taken the US government hostage in order to force Congress to accept his public policy preference without debate or compromise. It is the responsibility of Congress to set the legislative agenda and the job of the President to simply approve or disapprove of legislation. If he wants to push an agenda, he needs to work through sympathetic members of Congress. Just as the demands of criminals cannot be appeased in a hostage situation, the demands of the President cannot be accepted. Trump can achieve a partial victory and end to the shutdown by embracing a compromise that compels legislators to do their jobs and debate border security options.
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