In offering a compromise of sorts to end the partial government shutdown, President Trump invited the American public to join him Saturday in an exercise of blame-shifting. People should resist the impulse to hold anyone but Donald Trump responsible for the historically long and needless shutdown of much of the federal government, although his Republican enablers in Congress can bask in the shame as well.
Pressured by the growing disapproval of his leadership even among his core supporters, Trump proposed what he called a down payment on a broader immigration reform: a three-year freeze on deportations for the Dreamers, or immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, and for some non-citizens with Temporary Protected Status. Such temporary relief, though, wouldn’t make the Dreamers much better off than they are now.
In exchange, Trump wants $5.7 billion for his cherished wall along the southern border. It’s worth noting that the president shifted his rhetoric significantly — no longer is it a wall from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, he said, but “steel barriers in high-priority locations” identified by border agents.
Although it could be a starting point for real negotiations, it is not, at the moment, a deal worth taking. First and foremost, Trump has shown himself to be a completely unreliable negotiator, continually shifting positions and moving the goal posts; Democrats should ask to hear more before jumping at any offer. Beyond that, the courts have already provided some temporary protection for the Dreamers; Trump’s promise of a three-year shield from deportation isn’t much of an improvement, if any. And besides, Democrats shouldn’t bargain on border issues until the government reopens. Otherwise, they’d just be encouraging Trump to take the government hostage again the next time he wants something Congress won’t give him.
Even as he laid out his new, more limited vision of a wall, Trump continued to characterize it as an impossibly magical solution to a range of problems, some not even border-related. If his wall were built, Trump said, “the crime rate and drug problem in our country would be quickly and greatly reduced. Some say it could be cut in half.”
A physical barrier can be a useful part of the security equation — that’s why we have walls along roughly 700 miles of the Mexican border. But a wall can’t do what Trump claims; what it can do is send a clear, ugly message to the rest of the world about the bunker mentality of the president and his base.
The best that can be said about Trump’s offer is that it opens up a potential middle ground where Democrats could agree to spend more on border security and Trump could, in turn, agree to provide a path to citizenship for young people whose only real home is here, in the United States. But we won’t get there as long as Trump refuses to reopen the government unless he gets $5.7 billion for his wall.
Trump seemed ready in December to accept a temporary spending bill with no money for his pet project. It was only after some xenophobic pundits and far-right members of Congress accused him of caving in that Trump reasserted his insistence on a wall. In fact, he raised the price tag from $5 billion to $5.7 billion.
The president clearly wants Saturday’s speech to recast his obstinate wall demand as a reasonable request in exchange for an overdue solution to the thorny problem posed by the Dreamers. But he’s responsible for the Dreamers’ dilemma too, having rashly terminated President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in order to gain leverage over Democrats in negotiations over immigration policy.
This is a recurring theme of this transactional president’s tenure: To try to coerce Congress into supporting something that much of the country doesn’t want, he manufactures a problem in the hope that it will strengthen his bargaining position. We’ve seen it again and again — the administration’s concerted efforts to undermine Obamacare, his threats to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the tariff wars he launched with much of the industrialized world, the DACA fiasco and now the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history.