Dem Sen. Angus King: I disagree with Pelosi that a border wall is "immoral"

Yes, yes, technically he’s an independent who caucuses with Democrats. The fact remains that even minor notes of dissent within the liberal ranks are surprising right now given the “no wall, no discussion” posture Pelosi and Schumer have taken on the standoff.

“Nobody in Congress is in favor of open borders,” King assures CNN here, lying through his teeth. No one is in favor of open borders for violent criminals, maybe, but a party whose ideological vanguard supports abolishing ICE is at least open-borders-curious, shall we say. It makes me laugh to watch King blithely insist that Democrats are all for non-wall forms of border control one minute and then puzzle over Pelosi’s claim that a border wall would be “immoral” the next. To believe that a barrier to illegal entry is immoral, as Rich Lowry noted last week, you need to believe that borders themselves are immoral:

A wall or fencing is relatively mild as far as immigration enforcement goes. It doesn’t involve deporting anyone. It doesn’t separate families. It doesn’t prosecute and detain anyone. It doesn’t deny any illegal immigrant currently working in the United States a job. All it does is seek to avoid getting in a situation where any of these things is necessary in the first place.

A wall doesn’t close down the border, or close us off to the world. There are still ports of entry. People can still travel to and from Mexico. People can still, for that matter, fly to Paris. It just diminishes illegal entry at certain strategic points.

I don’t think Pelosi is ultra-radical on borders, actually. Her nonsense about the wall’s “immorality” is a mindless pander to her left flank. There are any number of more convincing ways to attack Trump’s pet project — cost, legal complications in acquiring the land to build it, the fact that Trump’s never offered Congress a detailed plan of where exactly it would be built and how long it would take, a point made here by King himself. The charitable view of her calling it “immoral” is that she recognizes that the fight over the wall is really just a proxy fight over the two parties’ diverging views on immigration writ large. Trump and the right want Fortress America; Pelosi and the left want something more … osmotic. Ridiculous claims about “immorality” underline that.

The less charitable view is that this is mainly about spite. Granted, Trump and the left disagree sharply on immigration, but the wall isn’t just any ol’ immigration program. It’s his signature. It’s his core campaign promise to his fans. It’s the most identifiable part of the policy engine that propelled the populist right to its biggest electoral victory since Andrew Jackson. If you want to hurt Trump, you block him on the wall. Democrats have been waiting three years to hurt him too; they just won 40 House seats and the power to veto whatever parts of his platform they like, and they did so after a campaign in which the White House chattered about the caravan 24/7 in the final weeks. This is their best opportunity to dunk in his face until Election Day 2020. Framing the wall as “immoral” is simply Pelosi’s attempt to festoon that impulse with something more exalted.

As for what happens now, Andrew Egger sees the way forward:

As things stand, then, Trump is transfixed between inexorable forces: Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi, who insists that a wall is 1) immoral and 2) not happening; and immigration hardliners who won’t buy any plan Democrats might sign off on. By refusing any deal that congressional leaders presented him before the shutdown, Trump signaled that the group he’s most stuck with is the hardliners. Which means this can end only one of three ways: Democrats unexpectedly buckle, or Republicans defect from the president in sufficient numbers to override his likely veto of a plan that did not include wall funding, or Trump tries to blow it all up with a national emergency. Who by now would be so naïve as to think option three is the least plausible?

They key word there is “tries.” I’ll defer to legal eagles on whether declaring a national emergency to justify reallocating defense funds towards the wall would hold up in court. It doesn’t matter for political purposes, though. The point of this exercise from Trump’s standpoint has been to show his fans that he did everything he could to try to make the wall happen. He forced a shutdown, he stood firm for weeks while federal workers grumbled, now he’s going to sign some emergency declaration. Never mind the fact that he got elected vowing that he’d cut a swath through Washington’s bureaucracy and elitist conventional wisdom to accomplish his goals; supporters won’t hold him to that any more than they’ll hold him to the 8,000 times he promised that Mexico would pay for the wall. The point is to prove that he’s done everything he can to fight fight fight before surrendering. That’ll keep his voters onboard and set him up for the unconvincing yet inevitable pitch in 2020 that the wall is really, truly going to be built in his second term just as long as we elect more Republicans to Congress.