Kevin McCarthy: We'll fight for funding for the border wall in December, not now

Not until December, huh? Granted, Republicans have a slew of crises to resolve right now, but crisis brings leverage and leverage will be needed to get Democrats to bend on funding the wall. Treasury will hit the debt ceiling this month; the government will run out of money towards the end of September; Harvey and soon Irma relief packages will need to be funded; and now DACA is on a six-month death watch. Any one or more of those bills could be used by the House GOP to play hardball with Schumer and Pelosi: “Give us funding for the wall or this isn’t happening.”

No dice, says House majority leader Kevin McCarthy. We’ll deal with the wall before Christmas.

House Republicans plan to pass a three-month continuing resolution to fund the government this month and will push any fight over President Donald Trump’s border wall until later this year, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday.

“We’ve got a lot of busy things happening here,” McCarthy told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo. “We have to deal with Harvey, we have the debt ceiling, we have a continuing resolution, which will be just about a three month continuing resolution. So you will deal with the wall a little later in the year.”

Good lord. The Beltway swamp creatures have knifed Trump in the back! Well … not quite:

The White House has assured Republican congressional leaders that Trump won’t pick a border wall fight during the debate over a stopgap bill needed to keep the government open past Sept. 30, said two people familiar with the conversations. The president would prefer to avoid entangling the borrowing limit deliberations with a fight over the wall. That makes a confrontation more likely in December, when the stopgap bill is likely to run out.

That’s smart politics by Trump, as the wall is super popular among his base but not popular otherwise. If funding for it became a sticking point that derailed the government, whether in a minor (shutdown) or major (technical default) way, the backlash could be nasty. The prudent move is to resolve the funding and debt ceiling issues, show the country that he’s johnny-on-the-spot in overseeing Harvey and Irma clean-up, and then have a slapfight with Congress over the border wall later.

Still, this’ll be the second time this year that he’s ducked a fight over money for the wall. He could have picked one a few months ago to partially redeem that gruesome spending bill that he got stuck with but he probably concluded that a shutdown so soon in his presidency would be imprudent. The advantage of picking a fight later this year is that, as congressional primaries heat up, House Republicans who’d otherwise be lukewarm about the wall will feel pressure to line up behind Trump. The disadvantage is that if he chokes again and signs the next funding bill without money for the wall in it, Congress will conclude that he’s a paper tiger who can be defied at will. That’s especially dangerous with the fate of DACA uncertain until next March: Trump wants to scare Congress into passing the DREAM Act with the threat that he’ll cancel DACA if they don’t pass something in six months, but if he caves on a shutdown over the wall this winter, everyone will assume he’ll cave and keep DACA going too. At some point he needs to punch someone in the face. If he doesn’t, even the famously loyal Trump base is going to start thinking he’s a wimp.

Here’s his real dilemma, though. Realistically, with the exception of repealing and replacing ObamaCare, there’s no Republican initiative Democrats are less likely to support than funding the border wall. And it’s not just because it’s broadly unpopular outside of the populist right or because amnesty-friendly liberals bristle at the idea of deterring “the undocumented.” It’s because it’s Trump’s signature proposal. Thwarting the wall is viscerally satisfying to them since it means Trump has failed on his most famous campaign promise. The only way the GOP has a chance to get funding for it is to attach it to a must-pass bill and then dare Democrats to vote no. But that’s also part of the dilemma: The public tends to blame Republicans more than Democrats in cases of high-stakes brinksmanship, partly because of the GOP’s track record on things like the 2011 debt-ceiling standoff and the 2013 shutdown and partly because they’re the “anti-government” party. To get the wall paid for, not only will Trump need to be willing to engage in high-stakes brinksmanship, he’ll need to somehow convince Democrats that they, not the GOP, will take the blame publicly if that brinksmanship results in some greater or lesser catastrophe. That’s a tall order.

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David Strom 1:31 PM on October 04, 2022