Poll after poll shows that Americans hold President Trump and his Republican allies responsible for the shutdown, which is hardly surprising since Trump declared he’d be “proud” to shutter the government. In the most recent poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos, 47 percent of Americans blame the president for the shutdown, compared to 33 percent who fault the Democrats. Moreover, according to NBC News, “just 35 percent of those surveyed in the Reuters/Ipsos poll said they backed including money for the wall in a congressional spending bill. Only 25 percent said they supported Trump shutting down the government over the matter.”
For those with a passing relationship to reality, the entire exercise is politically inane. The public doesn’t support either the ends (the wall), or the means (the shutdown). Next week, Democrats will take charge of the House, swiftly pass the clean continuing resolution to open the government, and send it to the Senate, daring Republicans there to vote against the exact same resolution they previously supported.
At that point, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has four options:
First, he can put the clean resolution on the floor, where it will pass, and see whether Trump has the nerve to veto it, and if so, whether there are 67 votes in the Senate for an override. That would be most humiliating option for Trump. Hence, it’s the least likely route for McConnell to take.
Another possible outcome would be to pass all the appropriations bills and reserve a separate vote on wall funding, which, of course, will fail. Then Trump can holler about Congress’s lack of nerve. This is a less obvious but no less complete collapse so, once again, McConnell likely won’t try this.
A third alternative would be to nudge up the dollar amount for border security (from $1.6 billion to, say to $2 billion), without specific permission for the wall-building. Trump can claim he got money for “steel slats” (which he now considers a wall), while Democrats can remind voters Trump didn’t get a wall, defined as “a continuous vertical brick or stone structure that encloses or divides an area of land.” This is a less obvious capitulation, so McConnell might try it.
The final alternative makes the most sense, but would be furiously opposed by White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and the anti-immigrant zealots that make up a critical part of the president’s base: Give Trump his $5 billion (less than the $25 billion once on the table, reminding us Trump is the worst presidential negotiator ever) in exchange for legalizing the “dreamers.” Given the logistical nightmares entailed in building the wall — beginning with environmental hurdles and Fifth Amendment property seizures (taking rural lands owned mostly by Republicans), Democrats know the wall is unlikely to be built anytime soon. (A subsequent Congress can always defund it.) It would be ransom, but relatively cheap ransom — a phony wall — in exchange for somewhere between about 700,000 and 3.6 million dreamers.
None other than Newt Gingrich (who, along with Donald E. Graham) recently argued: “Whether you support money to build the wall or regard it as a waste, everyone knows it is of central importance to the president, and he is proving he is prepared to fight for it. Why shouldn’t Congress take advantage of the best opportunity in years to give the dreamers the open door they deserve?” In other words, pro-dreamer lawmakers would get a sweet deal, and Trump would no doubt quickly anger a good chunk of his base, which regard any legalization of anyone to be the dreaded “amnesty.” (Cue the scary music.)
And that’s why the fourth and most reasonable alternative is unlikely to fly either. The same crowd that went nuts when Trump was prepared to sign a continuing resolution would have a meltdown if Congress spent $5 billion to legalize possibly millions of people.
The solution here, given Trump’s rotten bargaining position, is for Democrats to find the approach most advantageous to them and most embarrassing to Trump. If I were a betting person, I’d lay odds we’ll wind up with steel slats.