— Before the shutdown, Trump’s wall proposal reached its highest level of popularity in the December Quinnipiac University National Poll and it was still unpopular. Fifty-four percent of registered voters opposed it, while 43 percent were in favor. Other recent polls found larger gaps between opponents and supporters. A December CNN survey found 57 percent against the wall, 38 percent in favor. A CBS survey gap in October was greater, 60 percent no, 37 percent yes.
— Meanwhile, Trump’s overall popularity rating remains upside down. Fifty-one percent don’t like the job he’s doing, according to Quinnipiac; 42 percent do.
Numbers like these give Democrats confidence in their standoff with Trump.
“President Trump wanted to shut down the government and said he would be proud to do so,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said by email. “The American people are rightfully angry that he is holding government funding that we all agree on hostage to a wall that they don’t want built. … Congressional Republicans ought to vote with Democrats to reopen the government immediately, and provide certainty to thousands of federal employees who are furloughed or being forced to work without pay.”
The White House did not respond to questions for this column, but Trump did talk to reporters. In his mind, the wall is as popular as Santa Claus.
“The people of our country want it,” he said. “I have never had so much support, as I have in the last week, over my stance for border security, for border control and for, frankly, the wall or the barrier. I have never had anything like it in terms of calls coming in, in terms of people writing in and tweeting, and doing whatever they have to do. I have never had this much support. And we've done some things that, as you know, have been very popular.”
As the two sides stare down each other like Dodge City gunslingers, it is the regular folks, the people who can’t use federal services and the federal employees who suffer. Furloughed feds get hit twice. They are shut out of work or working without pay for now at the same time they are denied the services of closed federal facilities. White House and congressional officials and staffers, it must be noted, are getting paid even as they fail to keep the government fully operational.
Perhaps that’s why there seems to be little sense of urgency, particularly among Republicans. Now that members of Congress are back in town after the holidays, and Democrats control the House, meetings have resumed to get the government going again. But those meetings should have continued during the holiday break, when Republicans controlled all of Capitol Hill. Had that happened, maybe we would not have trash and toilets overflowing in national parks.
There’s no question Trump deserves blame for the shutdown. His repeated calls for one demonstrate his disdain for government. His mendacity and inconsistency make him an unreliable negotiating partner. Yet, for Democrats, how can the shutdown misery be worth the $4 billion — a tiny fraction of a $4 trillion federal budget — that separates them from what Trump wants for a wall? Remember, there already are sections of the border with a wall or a fence, which Democrats previously have been willing to fund.
“If we’re doing a 2,000-mile wall, you’re talking $25 to 30 billion,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said by phone. “This is really about whether or not you’re going to spend $25 to 30 billion in taxpayer money, because otherwise every year, President Trump will again shut down the government over the wall that he said Mexico is going to pay for. So, it really is a much bigger price tag.”
The Democrats have a compromise that makes sense. Since this foolish dispute centers on border security, fund the agencies that are not central to that debate and allow the government to approach full operation. Leave the Department of Homeland Security funding for another day, giving Trump and Democrats time to reach agreement.
“There’s absolutely no justification for Senate Republicans to hold all those departments hostage for any disagreement.” Van Hollen said. “… There is no justification for denying the public access to the services provided by those departments or doing harm to federal employees.”
He quickly notes that what Democrats seek now was previously supported by Republicans.
“What the House Democrats are proposing with respect to the Department of Homeland Security is identical to what Senate Republicans supported two weeks ago,” Van Hollen added. “So, I think the question really is for Senate Republicans: What’s wrong with the proposal they made two weeks ago?”
There’s nothing wrong with it, but Trump doesn’t like that compromise. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) won’t allow a vote on a measure Trump refuses to sign.
“We cannot be in a position where senators, which means Senate Republicans,” Van Hollen said, “are contracting out their votes to President Trump.”
But that’s the position we’re in.
Polling director Scott Clement contributed to this column.