Showdown over the wall

  • 11 December 2018
  • NormanL

The lame duck session of Congress has been mostly quiet, but that's rapidly changing as Congress and the White House spar over the budget.

The sticking point is what to do about the White House request for $5 billion to fund construction of a wall along the nation's southern border -- a Trump campaign promise. The president says he is willing to close the government down if that's what is required to get the funds. And for now, congressional Republicans, and more importantly Republican voters, are on Mr. Trump's side:

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out on Dec. 21, which as the winter solstice happens to be the darkest day of the year, but President Trump and Democrats are moving further apart as the deadline approaches to avoid a partial government shutdown. A new poll...helps explain why both sides are digging in their heels.

The survey by Marist for NPR and PBS shows that 57 percent of Americans think Trump should compromise to prevent gridlock, and 69 percent say building a border wall should not be a priority. But 65 percent of Republicans do not think Trump should compromise, even if it means a shutdown, and 63 percent say building a wall should be a top priority. Among strong Republicans, just 19 percent believe Trump should compromise on wall funding to avoid a shutdown. More than 90 percent of all Republicans approve of Trump’s handling of immigration.

Democrats may be digging in, but they are also very conflicted over what to do next:

During their 11:30 a.m. sit-down in the Oval Office, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer plan to offer Trump $1.3 billion in funding for a border fence – far short of the $5 billion that Trump has demanded.

Pelosi, focused on whipping Democratic votes for speaker, is more nervous than usual to do anything that will alienate liberals or Latinos. She declared last week that building the wall would be “immoral” – a standard that makes it harder to justify backing off. Schumer actually offered $1.6 billion in border funding recently, but he’s now revised that downward to $1.3 billion because he’s sensitive to hostility from his left flank.

We will enjoy the spectacle of watching Democrats attempt to appease the fringe members of their caucus. In the meantime, Republicans are holding together:

Conservative hardliners, especially in the House, are in no mood for a stopgap solution because they know they’ll have far less leverage next month when they’re in the minority. “This is our last chance to address illegal immigration before Democrats take over the House,” the House Freedom Caucus said in a joint statement last night. “Republicans in Congress must fulfill our promise to the American people by building President Trump's wall, ending catch and release and securing our borders."

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who will be the No. 2 Republican in the minority, said on Fox News yesterday that his members will hold firm in the lame duck to get what the president is demanding. “The number is $5 billion,” Scalise said. “If there is a better way to get there than what the president has laid out, then they need to come with an alternative. They can’t come and say they want to shut the government down for no reason because they don’t want border security.”

So...we get to watch the drama unfold. Grab your popcorn.