Once again Congress and the president are flirting with a government shutdown, with funding set to run out for about half of the federal bureaucracy a mere four days before Christmas. This time the hang-up is President Trump’s demand for billions of dollars for the bigger, longer wall that he has promised to build along the nation’s southern border.
Democrats are resisting the demand, and rightly so. As important as border security unquestionably is, Trump’s proposed “beautiful” wall wouldn’t meaningfully hinder illegal immigration, drug smuggling or any other problem the president has cited as a rationale. Illegal border crossings have shrunk over the last two decades, and drugs are smuggled primarily through tunnels or legal entry points.
But this debate isn’t, and never has been, about the best way to secure the border. It’s about the symbolism of the wall. To Trump, it’s the embodiment of his Fortress America approach to the rest of the world; to the more rational among us, it’s a terrible signal that the world’s greatest superpower has a bunker mentality.
That’s the backdrop for the meeting set for Tuesday between the president and top congressional Democrats, who will look for a way out of the impasse that Trump has created. And although compromise is vital to a functional democracy, lawmakers should continue to resist throwing $5 billion worth of tax dollars at what amounts to a vanity project for Trump. What both sides should be focused on is a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration law that addresses the full panoply of issues associated with decades of failed policy.
That’s a huge lift, and Congress simply doesn’t have enough time left in the current session to get there. The president needs to recognize that and stop holding the basic functions of government hostage to his wall ambitions. If he can’t persuade lawmakers to fund the wall, he shouldn’t put a huge chunk of the federal workforce on leave (which, if history is any guide, will ultimately become a paid vacation) to try to change their minds.
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