For the past two weeks, congressional negotiators have toiled over a border security deal to avoid another government shutdown.
On Thursday, conference committee members said they’re close to finalizing a proposal to present to the White House and Congress. Their goal is to have something ready by Monday so the House and Senate can vote before the Friday deadline.
Reporting from Capitol Hill suggests that Trump might see money for a physical barrier like fencing in a final deal, though it’s unlikely to be the full amount he wants. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), one of the negotiators, told Bloomberg that when it comes to border barriers, they’re “down to how much and where.”
At first glance, that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing Trump could sign off on. The president has promised his supporters he won’t agree to anything less than billions of dollars for a wall across the southern border. He has staked his presidency on it.
But in a recent interview, a top Trump administration official indicated that the president doesn’t care whether lawmakers include money for the border wall. The White House thinks it can build one, anyway.
It wasn’t so long ago that Trump was singing a different tune. The president shut down parts of the government for 35 days. He said he was willing to keep it closed for “months or even years” unless he got $5.7 billion to put toward building a wall at the southern border. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refused to bargain and eventually the president backed down, signing a bill to open the government until Feb. 15.
At the time, Trump said he would happily endure another shutdown if his terms weren’t met.
But despite that hard line, it now seems likely that Trump will sign whatever passes Congress and then move forward on his own.
In an interview, Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, has said the White House is vetting options for accessing money without congressional approval. Mulvaney has said that such a contingency plan is in the works if Trump isn’t satisfied with what Congress produces, telling Fox News on Wednesday that “we’ll figure out a way to do it with executive authority.”
A national emergency is still on the table, too, though Mulvaney said they’re looking for options that won’t get tangled up in court.
Such a move would infuriate Congress, including Republicans, who would see it as Trump ignoring that Congress is an equal branch of government.
Trump has never really believed Congress would give him the money. He cast doubts on the conference committee’s ability to succeed from the start. But Trump also knows, despite threats to the contrary, that there’s no upside to another shutdown.
Which is why Trump is going to sign whatever lands on his desk. Going it alone on the wall was probably the end game all along.