I’m more in favor of some kind of border wall, or barrier, than I am opposed to it, but here’s the thing: Trump and the Congressional Republicans have shut down the government over an issue that they didn’t do jack on for the two years the GOP controlled both houses of Congress, and, of course, the White House.
If Trump declares a national emergency to bypass Congress to get the money for the wall, he will be wrong, and his own party should stand up to him. But I don’t want to hear too much caterwauling from Democrats, who went along with it when President Obama pulled a similar move for DACA.
Still, Trump and his party stand on very weak ground. Philip Klein, writing in the Washington Examiner immediately after the president’s televised address, underscores the point:
We heard a lot tonight about illegal immigrants committing crimes and about the necessity of locking down the border. But that’s a case that he’s basically been making since he launched his presidential campaign three and a half years ago.
He’s been president for nearly two years, and up until last week, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. At any point during that two years, Republicans could have passed a bill to fund the border wall, and he could have gotten at least $5.6 billion.
Republicans were ready to use the reconciliation process, allowing the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority, to repeal and replace Obamacare. They successfully used the procedure to pass a massive tax cut. They certainly could have found a way to use it to put some money into building a border wall had Trump actually fought for it earlier in his administration.
In 2017, Trump had just won the presidency and building a wall was a significant part of his platform. At the time, he had significant political capital among Republicans, who would have been reticent to defy him on such a central issue.
Instead, he waited until now to make a firm stand, at a time when his party just lost control of the House and he has zero leverage over Democrats, whose base expects maximum resistance.
Legalities aside, this would be a very bad practice. It’s an offense against the spirit of our system for a president to fail to get he wants from Congress — in a dispute involving a core congressional power, spending — and then turn around and exploit a tenuous reading of the law to try to get it anyway.
We know this seems increasingly quaint, especially after President Obama’s pen-and-phone governance in his second term, but we believe presidents have an obligation to honor the role of the respective branches of government, even when it’s not in their political interest, even when there seems to be a clever workaround.
This has to stop. It’s bad enough that the Republicans are going along with the government shutdown over an issue that neither they nor Trump dealt with when they had the power to do. The fact that the Congressional Republicans aren’t drawing a bright line on a matter of principle right now is even worse.
Again: I would rather see a wall of some sort, at least on much of the US-Mexico border, than not, as part of a broader overhaul that changes asylum laws. The status quo is not tenable. But the Republicans and the Republican president could have done whatever they wanted for the past two years about the border barrier. They did not. For this they’ve now shut down the government? I think about all those federal workers who are living paycheck to paycheck, and are now hurting because Trump realized that he was on the verge of his base figuring out that he never really cared about the wall in the first place.
UPDATE: Here’s a comment from reader DS, whom I know personally, and who is a conservative Evangelical:
It’s just like abortion — George W Bush talked a good game, but did nothing while his party controlled Congress and the executive branch.
Rile the base and do nothing … until nothing can be done, then pretend to be thwarted by the evil opposition.