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Opinion A deal on the border takes creativity

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has left no doubt she won’t put money in the funding bill under negotiation for the “wall.” She humorously suggested we might plant a row of flowers on the border and call that a wall. Last week, however, she suggested “enhanced fencing, Normandy fencing” might be a different matter. She also let on that “if [negotiators] have some suggestions about certain localities where technology, some infrastructure,” that might be a different matter.

For his part, President Trump has pursued three lines of argument.

First, he now claims a big, beautiful concrete wall isn’t necessary — or wasn’t even promised. (It isn’t necessary, but he did promise.) One man’s “steel slats” might be another man’s “infrastructure.”

Second, Trump has insisted the wall is already being built. This is both false and idiotic, since he staged a 35-day shutdown because it was deemed necessary to get a wall. An Associated Press report reminds us, “Most work under contracts awarded by the Trump administration has been for replacement of existing barrier. When Trump says large parts of the wall ‘have already been built,’ he’s not acknowledging that previous administrations built those sections. Barriers currently extend for 654 miles … or about one-third of the border. That construction was mostly done from 2006 to 2009.” (What, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama built the wall and Trump couldn’t?)

Third, Trump threatens that if he doesn’t get what he wants (and what is that? — don’t ask!), he’ll declare a national emergency. On that front, his conditional threats, failure to pursue a wall for two years with a GOP-controlled House and Senate, the absence of an actual emergency and extended negotiations pretty much would doom his ploy if it got to court. Besides, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), having discovered he is part of an equal branch of government, reportedly told Trump he risks a vote of disapproval in the Senate, a vote that would require only a simple majority. (“McConnell (R-Ky.) told Trump that Congress might end up passing a resolution disapproving the emergency declaration, the people said — which would force the president to contemplate issuing his first veto ever, in the face of opposition from his own party,” The Post reported.)

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The one move that both sides in Congress agree upon: Another shutdown is out of the question. (The Senate and House could pass a clean continuing resolution through the end of the fiscal year and dare Trump to veto it.)

How then does this end? There are a bunch of possibilities:

  • A wall by any other name. The negotiators agree to infrastructure, secondary barrier, fencing or whatever other term they call it. Trump insists this is a wall. Everyone goes back to their own news universe. (Fox News screams, “Victory for Trump!”; the mainstream media say, “Defeat for Trump!”)
  • They reach no deal but agree to keep talking. Perhaps they repeat this several times until we reach the end of the fiscal year.
  • Trump decides a fence is not a wall, rejects Congress’s deal and declares an emergency. The House and even Trump’s own party in the Senate overturn that decision and/or he loses in court. (Now both sides holler, “Defeat for Trump!”)
  • Trump lies to himself and his supporters, saying the wall is being built or has been built or can be built anyway. (Trump cultists cannot quite explain the reason for the shutdown but declare victory. Everyone else exclaims, “Huh?!?”)

We should recognize this crazy state of affairs for what it is. Trump cannot get what he wants (a concrete wall from sea to shining sea), so we have to find something he can pretend is a wall. In sum, the whole country treats Trump as addled or clueless or an infant — and he’s willing to be pacified. Madness? More like a survival strategy for the Trump years.

Read more:

Michael Gerson: Trump’s wall is a monument to vanity and bigotry

The Post’s View: We should get more bang for our buck on border security

Brian Klaas: This man used to fight the cartels. He knows why Trump’s wall won’t work.

Greg Sargent: Republicans are trapped inside one of Trump’s biggest lies

Karen Tumulty: Here’s a better chant for Trump’s base than ‘build the wall’