Sometimes an idea from the other side is so fiendishly clever you can only tip your cap to it. This one from Paul Rosenzweig is in that category.
Schumer/Pelosi should offer a matching fund deal: $1 of funding for every dollar Trump gets from Mexico.
— Paul Rosenzweig (@RosenzweigP) December 12, 2018
“Build the wall” was only half of Trump’s signature line on immigration in 2016. The other half, which you hear conspicuously less of nowadays, was “and make Mexico pay for it.” That’s gotten lost in the standoff between Trump and Democrats over funding. Rosenzweig’s plan would bring it back, front and center, which is all upside for Dems given that the official response from Mexico’s new populist left-wing president is destined to be “get bent.” In one economical PR package, Pelosi and Schumer would have accomplished three things: (1) reminding the public that Trump lied to them ad nauseam during the campaign about how the wall will be funded, (2) signaling that they’re willing to provide some funding under certain circumstances, which will blunt Republican attacks that Democrats are being recalcitrant, and (3) shifting public focus away from Democrats’ refusal to pony up for the wall to Mexico’s refusal to pony up for it. Trump’s core pitch as a candidate was that he’d be so “strong” a leader, so unyielding an advocate for American interests, that pipsqueak countries like Mexico would have no choice but to bow to his wishes. Throwing a bright spotlight on his failure to do that in a high-stakes situation like shutdown brinksmanship would embarrass the hell out of him. It risks tilting public reaction from “Why won’t Democrats just give him a little money for the wall?” to “Yeah, come to think of it, why hasn’t Trump made Mexico pay for the wall yet? Why should Democrats have to pay?”
The subject of Mexico’s role in funding the wall came up yesterday at Trump’s meeting with Chuck-n-Nancy. He’s spent the past two years trying to finesse what he meant when he said in 2016 that Mexico would pay for the project, at times he floating the idea of taxing remittances by Mexican citizens working in the U.S. to cover the cost. Yesterday he told Pelosi that they’d somehow make it up in trade:
One person familiar with the meeting told Business Insider that the president said the USMCA will bring so much money into the US that it would be almost as if Mexico paid for the wall…
“I said, ‘You’re going to take the money we made from the trade agreement. Well that’s an opportunity cost, Mr. President, for American workers and our economy that’s supposed to benefit from that. They did not know you are passing a bill so that you could pay for a wall and say Mexico paid for it with our profits from our workers and our businesses and the rest,'” Pelosi said [afterward at a meeting with Democrats], according to the person.
Schumer also pushed back on the idea, arguing new money from a trade deal isn’t the same thing as the Mexican government funding the construction of a wall. Studies have also shown that the USMCA is likely to do little to budge the US GDP needle.
It’d be great if the USMCA (which hasn’t been ratified yet) generated billions in economic growth, but unless that growth produces $25 billion in new tax revenue then it’s not paying for the wall. Either way, Rosenzweig’s PR gambit naturally would involve Pelosi and Schumer insisting that Mexico pay directly for the wall — cut a check for half the bill, as most Americans who listened to Trump in 2016 no doubt imagined this going down, and Democrats will approve the other half, dollar for dollar. It’s clever enough that I wonder if they’ll actually try it.
Here’s WaPo reporter Eli Stokols reporting last night that Trump was even more pissed than everyone assumed after yesterday’s meeting with Pelosi and Schumer. He shouldn’t have been, argues Matt Lewis — he won that showdown insofar as he managed to show his base in a highly public way that he’s willing to fight for nationalist priorities and not back down. That’s true, but Pelosi and Schumer got a chance to show their base that they won’t back down either. And Trump is now in a dangerous situation because, much more so than either Chuck or Nancy, his image is all about strength. He cannot cave on this, more so than ever after yesterday’s performance raised the stakes. And yet he’ll have to cave on this, at least partially. Democrats would be fools to give him the $5 billion he’s after under the circumstances. Some compromise will be reached. And it won’t be for $5 billion.
— Hardball (@hardball) December 12, 2018