President Donald Trump had made one thing very clear on each day of this 35-day government shutdown: He wouldn’t agree to a compromise deal to re-open the government unless it contained money allocated for the construction of his border wall.
And then, on Friday, he did exactly that.
“We have reached a deal to end the shutdown and re-open the federal government,” Trump said Friday afternoon while announcing the deal.
The parameters of that deal are this: The government will re-open for three weeks – until February 15 – so that negotiations via bipartisan conference committee can begin about how much money should be allocated for border security and, specifically, for Trump’s wall. The deal to re-open the government did not include any increase in the $1.3 billion already allocated for fencing and wall repair.
Prior to Trump’s speech announcing the end of the shutdown, his aides sought to portray this deal as a win for Trump – in that he is calling Democrats’ bluff to begin talks about funding the wall. In the speech itself, Trump asserted of Democrats: “They have finally and fully acknowledged that having barriers or fences or walls will be an important part of the solution.”
But based on, well, reality, that is not an accurate characterization of either the deal or Democrats’ views on the necessity of a wall along our southern border.
The government shutdown, which began on December 22, was the direct result of Trump’s insistence that he needed $5.7 billion in federal funding to build a border wall. Democrats refused to trade wall money in exchange for keeping the government open.
And, throughout the shutdown, Trump repeatedly harped on the need for wall money to bring about any compromise to re-open the government.
“Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time,” Trump tweeted on January 9. “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
Then there was this tweet on January 22 – just three days ago: “Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security. With a powerful Wall or Steel Barrier, Crime Rates (and Drugs) will go substantially down all over the U.S. The Dems know this but want to play political games. Must finally be done correctly. No Cave!”
Despite his attempts, there is simply no way to spin this as anything other than what Trump pledged he wouldn’t do earlier this week: Cave. He said he would not agree to re-open the government unless and until he got the $5.7 billion he said was necessary to build a wall to protect our border from undocumented immigrants pouring in. He did not get that. In fact, he got nothing – not one dime more than had already been allocated by Congress to border security.
Could that change? Sure! A conference committee between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate could, potentially, include money for new barriers or fences or even – gasp – walls. But that’s not what Trump said when he refused to keep the government open on December 22 – and then again and again over the intervening days. He said the government wouldn’t open again unless there was a promise of border wall money. This deal does not meet that standard.
So why did he do it?
Simple: The pressure from Senate Republicans, his own concerns about his political future and the increasing impacts of the shutdown (most notably a ground stop and delays at major airports today) combined into a toxic mixture that not even Trump could stomach.
The logjam began to break on Thursday afternoon when six Senate Republicans – including several incumbents expected to be major Democratic targets in 2020 – broke ranks with Trump to side with Democrats on a show vote that would have re-opened the government for two weeks. The message from those Republicans – and, without even saying anything, from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was clear: We are losing this thing. We need to end it.
That message dovetailed with a series of recent national polls that have shown three things consistently: 1) A majority of Americans blame Trump and Republicans for the government shutdown 2) A majority of Americans do not believe the wall is a realistic solution to the country’s immigration problems and 3) Trump’s approval ratings were nearing their all-time lows. (In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday afternoon, just 37% approved of the job Trump is doing while 58% disapproved.)
This was, simply put, a losing hand for Trump. And so, he folded. Although, he did so in a manner that is familiar to anyone who has closely watched his life – in both business and politics. He glossed over the fact that he wasn’t getting anything concrete he wanted in this deal to re-open the government, choosing instead to insist that he had in fact won in this deal – despite proof to the contrary – and issuing a not-so-veiled threat that if things didn’t go exactly to his liking over the next few weeks, he could and would do something about it.
“Let me be very clear: We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump said at the end of his remarks. “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shutdown on February 15 again or I will use the powers afforded to me … to address this emergency.”
He can say that – or anything else he wants.
But it doesn’t change the facts, which are these: Trump said he wouldn’t agree to re-open the government without a promise of $5.7 billion in wall funding. He got a total of $0 in wall funding guaranteed in this deal. The end.