Listen Closely, And You Might Hear Democrats Changing Their Tune (A Little) On A Wall…

Not “the wall”. But a wall of some kind…

House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (as reported by the Washington Post):

“I think we’ve consistently said that we do not support a medieval border wall from sea to shining sea….However, we are willing to support fencing where it makes sense, but it should be done in an evidence-based fashion.”

Chair of the bipartisan conference committee Rep. Nita Lowey (D) NY (also in the Post):

“Smart border security is not overly reliant on physical barriers, and they’re not cost-effective compared to better technology and more personnel.”

Note: “not overly reliant”.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a couple of days ago (as reported by the New York Times):

“[Democrats want a border plan rooted in] evidence-based knowledge about how we best secure our border”.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter what the bipartisan conference committee in Congress comes up with in terms of a border security measure in the next couple of weeks, as long as they come up with something. That would at least put the responsibility on Trump for any further action he chooses to take, and erases the possibility of him blaming it on Congress due to their inaction.

Does that mean the legislation immediately being hammered out would have to include wall money to get the President’s signature? Maybe, maybe not. While there was no wall money in the budget bill passed by the Republican-controlled Senate at the end of last year that Trump refused to sign, Congress has over the past year appropriated several billion dollars to border security, including repairing and reinforcing existing barriers, but specifying it could not be spent on building a new wall. Now, the one thing everyone seems to agree on is allocating many more billions for a wide range of border-related things.

We think, despite the fact that Democrats clearly won the “shutdown battle”, there’s a good chance they could at least endorse the modernization and even possibly the extension of existing barriers. That’s because they’re most focused on making sure any change will be taken in the context of wall as valid security measure, not wall as personal monument in honor of our President. Which is totally valid, but how do you prevent the President from turning it into that anyway?

If Democrats need to put some wall money into a border security agreement to pass it, there may be some ways they can sell it without looking like they are giving up ground: perhaps by setting up a mechanism independent from the President that would determine how border money is best spent, which wouldn’t automatically rule in or out a wall.

There are also ways, perhaps, of letting Trump call something a wall, when it’s actually not a wall. Which is why you hear Democrats these days, like House Majority Whip James Clyburn, throwing around terms like “smart wall”. All Trump now has to do to fulfill his promise to his people is latch on to one of those “wall-y” buzzwords. He’s already come a long way: from his campaign rally pledge to build a “big beautiful wall from seat to shining sea”, to saying he never said that, and it’s almost foolish to think that. (Except of course, he did say it.)

Even if the bipartisan group doesn’t deliver anything Trump likes, the fact of any bipartisan deal will put him in a very hard position, because he’s already looking at a raft of choices that are sure to add to his unpopularity including re-shutting down the government, or declaring a national emergency to build the wall. (How is it an emergency if it can wait 3 weeks or 2 months depending on how you want to look at it?)

There are bigger issues too, that are barely being touched. As the Conservative Cato Institute points out (and we happen to agree with, though possibly for different reasons): as “expensive and ineffective” as Trump’s wall would be, having the solution be drones and a bunch of other high tech gadgets poses the threat of further militarizing what they say is already “a needlessly over-militarized regione. (Always have to remember however, that Cato was founded by the Koch Brothers, who oppose many of the immigration measures Trump supports, because they need a steady supply of reliable workers they don’t have to pay much to in order to grow their businesses.

Since giving in—at least temporarily—on his wall, Trump’s been quick to ramp up his rhetoric and misinformation campaign about where and how criminals and drugs flow into the country. This brilliant piece in the New York Times traces the origins of the contraband Trump used to make his case for the wall when he visited the border, and found most of it was seized at official ports of entry and/or several years ago. Since his temporary capitulation Trump’s been alternately ridiculed and emboldened by his favorite reporters and commentators on Fox. So as usual those folks are being very “helpful” in setting Trump’s agenda.

We do wonder if Trump’s view of some of his most anti-immigrant advisors and buddies, like Stephen Miller, or Freedom caucus leader Rep. Mark meadows, have been changed by how disastrous the shutdown was for Trump. Because we can imagine Miller et. al., were in there every day telling Trump if he held firm Democrats would weaken, start defecting and he’d ultimately prevail. That’s probably what Trump’s gut told him too. Still, the President will never blame himself for anything. so we’d imagine at least some of those advisers are in at least a little hot water. Or maybe not. But we hope so.

In addition to Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains a key player in all of this, especially if he sticks to his vow that he won’t bring anything to the floor of the Senate that Trump won’t sign.

Although he already kind of broke it by allowing a vote on Democrats’ bill last week, along with Trump’s bill. That proved to be an interesting and constructive gambit, in that even though both bills were almost guaranteed to fail, the outcome would be a win-win for the Majority Leader no matter what. Had a few Democrats defected to the Trump bill (only one did, plus two Republicans voted against Trump) that could’ve put pressure on them to come up with a compromise that included wall funding. If Republicans came over and supported the Democrats (which is what happened: 6 of them voted for the Democrats’ plan), that put pressure on Trump to give in at least temporarily and reopen the government. So while McConnell was as much to blame for the length of the shutdown as anyone (as we’ve discussed, he could’ve acted decisively much sooner), he also played a pivotal role in ending it, and his power as gatekeeper of what gets voted on in the Senate will continue to be extraordinarily important to any eventual resolution (or not).

And McConnell, perhaps a little surprisingly, appeared to endorse legislation to prevent future government shutdowns from even being allowed to happen.

Anyway, the conference committee responsible for hammering out a bipartisan deal meets for the first time today. (Although of course they’ve been talking.) We’ll have more tomorrow on the committee (or later in the week as breaking news warrants): who’s on it, and what they might be expected to accomplish.