It's hard to overstate what a barrier President Trump's border wall has been for getting things done in Washington.
And if he has given up on getting it into a deal on protecting dreamers, as congressional Democrats who dined with him Wednesday night claim, that raises the possibility he's not going to demand Congress pay for his wall at all, which raises the possibility that Washington could work a lot more smoothly, which raises the possibility that our political reality as we know it could change.
Let me back up. There's something for almost everyone in Washington to hate about the president's wall.
For Democrats, the wall is a manifestation of everything they despise about Trump — his hard-line immigration stances, simplistic policy ideas, identity-focused politics. In his very first speech of this whole ordeal he suggested Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and criminals. Yeah, that wall can't happen, Democrats say.
“We will not build a stupid wall,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a potential 2020 contender, yelled to cheering supporters after Trump's inauguration.
Mainstream Republicans don't like the wall, either. Some of the more hard-line members of the party like the idea, but nearly every border Republican is opposed. They argue that money could be better spent on more technologically advanced border security tools.
Plus, the untold billions of dollars building a wall along 1,900 miles of mostly desert — without a check from Mexico — would be a fiscally irresponsible thing to do for the party that thinks it's the fiscally responsible one.
All this is why the wall has been our top reason the government could shut down, which is a real threat in December.
But if Trump has given up on getting Congress to pay for his wall in exchange for border security, well, that changes things. Suddenly, the wall is not a negotiating chip in protections for dreamers. It wouldn't be a negotiating chip in the spending bill or even the debt ceiling. One of Washington's most intractable red lines suddenly just isn't.
And that opens up a lot of possibilities for Washington to work together a little more. Democrats who are still wary of working with Trump can be less wary if they know a wall — a symbol of all they dislike about the president — won't be part of the discussion.
House Republicans voted through a $1.6 billion down payment this summer, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) put out a flashy video championing it, but they did all of this knowing the wall was dead on arrival in the Senate and they wouldn't be forced to actually write that check. Under this scenario, they can really be sure they'll never have to write that check.
But perhaps most important, a wall-less Trump becomes a little more predictable for everyone in Washington. Lawmakers trying to cut deals among themselves never knew when the wall was going to rear its head and demand to be part of the talks. If and when that happened, it would jettison Democrats from the negotiating table and put Republicans in an impossible position of trying to please their hard-line base and president, and be practical about border security and continue to champion fiscal responsibility.
Of course, it's also a possibility that Trump's wall plans could be softened. As The Fix's Aaron Blake has pointed out, he's already basically acknowledged he won't have Mexico pay for it. And in tweets Thursday, he suggested his “big, beautiful wall” could look more like rehabilitated fencing that's already on some of the border. Later in the day, he told reporters after landing in Florida to survey Hurricane Irma damage that "the wall" will exist in some form, to be paid for by Congress, later on: "But, very importantly, what we want -- we have to have a wall," he said.
The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
This wouldn't be the first major campaign promise on which Trump has suddenly made an about-face. And he's backed down on demanding money for his wall twice this year, in budget negotiations in April and last week.
It's also a possibility Democrats who talked with the president heard him wrong, or he's going back on his closed-door deal. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared to suggest the wall isn't entirely done with yet.
While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) September 14, 2017
Which would put Washington right back to where it was this time Wednesday: in a standoff on all things bipartisan, with Trump's border wall at the center.