Trump Isn’t Getting His Border Wall

There’s been a lot of speculation that President Trump’s heart wasn’t really committed to repealing Obamacare. He agreed to go along with the strategy of tackling the issue first, perhaps because he didn’t realize the odds against success, but his passion supposedly lies elsewhere. It’s a plausible argument, I guess, but he did talk rather relentlessly about repealing Obama’s signature law on the campaign trail.

The only thing I can think of that he talked about more was building a wall on our border with Mexico and making the Mexicans pay for it. Regardless of where his true passion lies, a failure on both of these top themes of his run for the presidency would put a boulder-size dent in his reputation as a dealmaker.

Of course, just as there was a plan to repeal Obamacare, there has been a plan to fund the wall, too. But there are problems.

One problem is that that plan doesn’t entail the Mexicans signing the checks. Another problem is just emerging now. It doesn’t look like Congress wants to stick to the plan.

The White House made an initial request earlier this month for $1.4 billion in border wall funding as part of a package that boosts defense spending by $30 billion, with the thought that it would hitch a ride to the broader government funding bill due next month.

When lawmakers talk about having a piece of legislation “hitch a ride,” it means that they want to attach it to something that absolutely must pass so that opponents feel more pressure to go along with it. The most obvious place to put a piece of legislation like that is on a bill that will prevent the government from closing down or defaulting on its debts. That was the plan here, but it’s falling apart:

With the GOP consumed by its own divisions, the White House and Hill Republicans will have to rely on Democratic votes to avoid a government shutdown next month in what would be another disaster for Trump’s fledgling presidency.

Republican leaders, wary of this, are considering a plan that would not directly tie the border wall money to the April 28 government funding deadline.

I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, but everything Trump has done since election day has indicated that he never contemplated the need to “rely on Democratic votes” for anything. The fact is, he can’t rely on Democratic votes, and he can rely on them the least when he’s trying to get them to pass part of his agenda because his own party will not.

Chuck Schumer spelled it out for him, not that he’s a quick learner:

Republicans began the year thinking that they could get moderate Democrats and perhaps even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to fund construction of a wall that some Democrats have supported in the past. But Schumer has warned McConnell that his party will not support any “riders” in the funding bill intended to jam Democrats with conservative policies.

“The wall is a poison-pill rider,” Schumer said in an interview. “They’ll do it at their peril.”

To be honest, it’s a small miracle that Schumer is offering any votes at all to keep the government open or to (later) raise the debt ceiling. His only demand is that Trump not hitch these kind of “riders” to the bills. In my opinion, he should be making demands of his own, considering that the Republicans tried to jam President Obama every single time these funding and funding authorization bills came up during his two terms in office.

But Schumer is offering to do what the Republicans were asked to do and never would. If it’s a sign of weakness, it’s also a nod to consistency and responsible governance, so I can’t be too critical.

In any case, the Republicans are figuring out that if they attach border wall funding to a must pass spending bill that they can’t pass with their own votes, they’re not going to win the political battle over who to blame if the government shuts down as a result.

But acknowledging that problem is not the same as figuring out how to solve it. Consider this gentleman’s opinion:

A senior Republican source suggested Trump could conceivably win a shutdown fight if he went to the mat to defend it: “This is his signature issue. I cannot imagine a scenario where the Trump administration loses on the border wall funding. If I were them, I’d dare the Democrats to shut down the government over this.”

Of course, this man is not very bright and his imagination isn’t very strong. More intelligent Republicans have better forecasting skills:

Another senior House Republican source disagreed completely: “The Trump administration can’t have another disaster on its hands. I think right now they have to show some level of competence and that they can govern.”

The next step is to come up with some face-saving, ass-covering gambit to deflect blame and pretend that Trump had a winning plan to fund that wall that was sabotaged. It looks like this: the House Republicans pass the must-pass funding with an amendment on the wall funding attached. The Senate strips out the wall amendment and sends the House back a clean funding bill. The House then has the choice to allow a government shutdown or to close the government and challenge the Democrats and the Senate to cave.

The Democrats and the Senate won’t cave, of course, so the House will eventually reopen the government without Trump’s wall funding, and with the prospects for getting the funding as far off as the Andromeda Galaxy.

At least some in the White House are coming to grips with reality, which is why “Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in recent weeks has suggested the administration will focus more on the wall in the future, perhaps as late as fiscal 2019.”

One thing that isn’t addressed but should be is the question of how important it is that Trump keep the promise entailed in both parts of his greatest applause line. Did he fans clap harder for the wall or for the idea that Trump would force the Mexican government to pay for it?

Right now, we’re only talking about the first part of the formula. If Trump had said that he was going to build the wall and give the estimated final $21.6 billion invoice to the American people, I don’t think his fans would have been so rapturous about the idea.

So, the Republicans are looking for a way out. They’ll need permission from Trump to concoct the Kabuki Theater in which they’ll put on a show of trying to build his wall. How he responds will determine whether the next failure has a hard or a soft landing.

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