Getting Through The Wall
[Ed Note: This month is the tenth anniversary of Ordinary Times. To mark the occasion, we have invited former contributors of note to return to submit a piece. Mark of New Jersey was one of the founding members of the site and remained active from 2009 to 2015 and was an influential editor and presence on this site that entire time.]
That the Coulters of the world are outraged at the tradeoff of providing minimal protections to DACA and TPS recipients tells you all you need to know about the desperation of this move (and also, if more evidence were somehow needed, of the cruelty of the Coulters of the world). It is now imperative that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats not permit this desperation move to succeed. Because Pelosi is a seasoned professional, I have little doubt they will prevail. And prevail they must, even if doing so extends the shutdown an extra week or even an extra month, unfortunately for one simple reason: if they do not prevail in a manner that someone who sees the world as a zero sum game like Trump and his malevolent cheerleaders, then Trump will not hesitate to shut the government down again for just as long, if not longer. Instead, he will think he has found a new shiny toy and attempt to use critical leverage points like the next debt ceiling vote to make ever more ridiculous demands, no matter how unpopular outside of his base.
To do that, Democrats should recognize that the manner in which Trump delivered his “offer” makes it inadvisable to conduct the next round of negotiations behind closed doors. We already of course know that Trump’s word behind closed doors isn’t exactly bond, particularly on this issue. More importantly though, the choice of a public forum for this proposal was meant to make Trump appear to be the reasonable one after having pulled the rug out from a bipartisan deal to start this whole mess. The Democrats can do the same by returning the favor, preferably through a combination of legislation they pass themselves in the House and a well-executed press conference, whilst any offer they make behind closed doors will now provide them little assistance. And to be clear, they must counteroffer – Trump’s offer may have been desperate, but without a counteroffer that an ordinary person would perceive as reasonable, it will succeed.
So what should that counteroffer look like? I think it needs to have a couple of underlying principles:
(1) Unfortunately, it’s going to have to give Trump some way of saving face via at least some funding for the Wall, as hard as that is to swallow; the consolation of course must be that this funding will not go very far and will also be the only funding Trump will ever be able to receive for the Wall. As an initial matter, Democrats should not provide the full amount Trump is demanding – somewhere in the vicinity of $2-3 billion should do the trick;
(2) it needs to permanently protect DACA recipients and provide a pathway to citizenship for TPS recipients and ensure they can never again be used as pawns;
(3) it needs to eliminate as many future leverage points to shut the government down as possible; and
(4) it needs to call Trump’s bluff by highlighting the inherent insincerity of claims that Wall supporters are only opposed to illegal immigration by increasing legal immigration caps significantly.
I’m aware that some, such as Nate Silver, have suggested using this as an opportunity for some good old fashioned cross-issue logrolling, but I don’t think that’s wise strategy here (and not just because I’m personally lukewarm about HR 1) – while it may be a way to resolve the conflict, it does nothing to hit Trump on something he cares about, and so encourages more hostage-taking in the future.
A strategy along these lines will be successful because the three items the Democrats would get in return are broadly very popular even outside of the Democratic base, even as the Wall itself is most certainly not: Americans on the whole very much believe in a permanent protection for DACA recipients and immigrants who, like TPS recipients, have been legally in the country for long enough to call it home; Americans surely do not generally approve of the use of government shutdowns or the debt ceiling as hostage holding opportunities; and increasingly they favor higher levels of legal immigration. More importantly, these three items are not merely Democratic policy goals – they will have an immediate effect on the lives of millions of immigrants, government workers, and users of government services who this President has gone out of his way to treat with utmost cruelty.
The political argument is also obvious, clean and uncomplicated, and can easily rely on principles that Trump’s “offer,” no matter how much made in bad faith, implicitly recognizes. This fact is, I am quite certain, why xenophobes like Ann Coulter are so offended by what would otherwise be exceedingly minimal concessions. Indeed, the rollout of this path forward just about writes itself:
“While we reject the President’s plan out of hand, we are glad that he has recognized that DACA and TPS recipients have done nothing wrong and should be permitted to remain in this country – this will, of course, be no less true in three years as it is now, which is why our legislation makes these protections that the President has already agreed to permanent and in a manner that is consistent with the views of the overwhelming majority of Americans. We also acknowledge that the President opened his remarks by praising legal immigration, and suggesting that his concern is exclusively with respect to illegal immigration and trafficking. This is why, in the interest of compromise, we are offering President Trump $2 billion for his border wall in areas of particularly high traffic while seeking to protect the property rights of ranchers on the border and one of our most treasured national parks. We also have included a substantial increase of legal immigration quotas. This increase will encourage more people to use legal channels to enter this country and thus help to alleviate some of the worst humanitarian issues arising at the border. Finally, this shutdown has gone on far too long and the American people cannot continue to permit their government to be held hostage to political whims. For this reason, this legislation includes a permanent elimination of the debt ceiling and funds the government for a full year. This is a reasonable compromise that is wholly consistent with the principles the President himself acknowledged in his January 19 proposal and we look forward to his agreement once this legislation has passed Congress.”
Perhaps this will succeed in getting Trump’s signature. Probably it won’t. But it would create a path forward by locking Trump into the words he spoke this afternoon and, given the popularity of each of these proposals, it would also be increasingly difficult for Republican legislators looking for a way out to oppose, perhaps with some minor changes (e.g., giving the full $5.7 billion).