DESPITE PRESIDENT TRUMP’S contempt for the niceties of legislating — he said it’s a “waste of time” for congressional negotiators to seek a deal on border security aimed at averting another government shutdown — there are hopeful signs emerging from Capitol Hill.
Chief among them are suggestions from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) that any agreement struck by negotiators would be brought up for a floor vote. That means legislators, specifically Republicans, may be prepared for a change to conduct themselves as an equal branch of government, even if that entails standing up to Mr. Trump and handing him a bipartisan compromise to sign.
They should, and not just for the constitutional principle at stake. Americans, fed up with Washington dysfunction, want no more shutdowns. The only way to resolve any facet of the immigration debate is for both parties and other stakeholders to accept part of a loaf. And Mr. Trump, notwithstanding his putative prowess for dealmaking, has shown no gift for compromise on the border, preferring instead to detonate blasts of unsubstantiated hyperbole. While raising the specter of “an invasion of our country by human traffickers,” he continues to threaten another shutdown or declaration of national emergency if he doesn’t get $5.7 billion in wall funding by Feb. 15, when the current funding bill expires.
During last month’s shutdown, which led to 800,000 federal workers and many contract workers not getting paid, Mr. McConnell refused to allow a vote on any legislation that did not have Mr. Trump’s blessing. The result: five weeks of impasse. Today, according to Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), one of the most senior of the 17 conferees seeking a deal, “We’re dealing in substance now. Something we haven’t done before.”
The horse-trading appears to have narrowed to measures to buttress border security — “enhanced” barriers or fencing, a lexiconic convenience that sidesteps the word “wall,” as well as means to toughen inspection at legal ports of entry, where most drugs actually enter the United States.
Democrats have backed away from their initial not-a-dime stance on barrier funding. Republicans acknowledge they will not secure anything close to the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump seeks for his wall. As they edge toward a middle ground, both sides should focus on real solutions to actual challenges along the border.
That means discarding Trumpian rhetoric regarding phantasmagoric hordes of criminal migrants; in fact, the number of illegal border crossers is near a four-decade low. Instead, negotiators must address the spike in migrant families seeking asylum legally, who have overwhelmed the immigration courts as well as government personnel and facilities along the frontier. And they should spend the money where it can do the most good: on a combination of improving and modestly expanding current fencing, beefing up technology and expanding the capacity of immigration courts. If the conferees on the Hill can find that sweet spot, they will have demonstrated the kind of common sense that has been in short supply of late.