I’m more surprised by this than I should be, probably. Watch, then read on.
.@RepCheri Bustos says the border wall has become “nothing more than a symbol,” but notes that “in the end, we might have to give or take a little bit. It’s just the way the world works.”https://t.co/oiGb5OgcB7 pic.twitter.com/2aUrs7YK1Z
— New Day (@NewDay) January 4, 2019
Who’s Cheri Bustos? An interesting character, if you’re unfamiliar. Fun facts about her:
— She’s the new chair of the DCCC, the committee charged with helping to elect Democratic candidates to the House in 2020. The DCCC chair is also the fifth-highest-ranking member of the caucus. This isn’t some rando floating compromise with Trump on CNN. This is the leadership.
— She’s a Pelosi rival. In fact, no Democrat besides Nancy herself got as many floor votes for Speaker yesterday as Bustos did — only four, to be sure, but it shows that there’s already a constituency for her within the caucus. “Mrs. Bustos‘ fans in the Democrat caucus — many more than four — say she’s poised to someday ascend to speaker,” the Washington Times noted today. How many of her “fans” also think there should be some “give and take” with Trump?
— Her home district, IL-17, voted Democratic for president in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 — by double digits in all but one case. Trump stunned Hillary there in 2016, though, winning by less than a point. Bustos, meanwhile, has never had a truly tough race. She unseated the Republican incumbent in 2012 by nearly seven points, then won by 11 in 2014, then crushed her opponents by more than 20 in the last two cycles.
— Her brand has been “compromise” since long before the shutdown. Here’s what she told BuzzFeed a few days before the midterms:
“I think the next two years will be very, very important for us. I think we have a lot to prove to the American public. … We’ve lost that faith, to the point where we’ve been in the minority for, what is it, eight years now,” Bustos said. “I want to make sure that we can show them that we can get some hard work done. And I think we have two years, that’s a very short timeline, to show them that we can get this done, that we can be good legislators.”…
And yes, Bustos is even willing to work with Trump himself. “He wants to run for reelection in two years. He has to have something to show for it,” Bustos said. “If he wants something to show for it, then we’re saying sure, we’ll work with you on these issues that Americans care about.”
Add all of that up and Bustos’s comments in the clip shouldn’t feel like a surprise. She’s cultivated an image as a less partisan Democrat; her home district likes her a bunch but also likes Trump, pointing her towards moderation here; and as head of the DCCC, she needs to take care that what she says publicly doesn’t come back to haunt her colleagues who are running in redder, more Trump-friendly districts. Her job on the committee is to get them reelected, remember. Playing good cop to Pelosi’s bad cop on the wall might help them.
And yet. This is the first crack of daylight I’m aware of within the Democratic caucus on the shutdown. Pelosi’s message up until now has been that the party is unified in denying Trump his wall. Suddenly here’s the head of the DCCC on television saying, “Wellllllll…” Surprising! Plus, ask yourself how dangerous an anti-Trump comment by Bustos would really be to a red-state Democrat facing a tough race in 2020 given that 99.9 percent of the country couldn’t pick her out of a line-up. Realistically she’s in no danger of losing her own reelection bid either by taking a hard line against the wall. She won in a landslide the last time POTUS was on the ballot, after all. What happens in 2020 if she comes out as strongly anti-Trump? She wins by only 10 points instead? If anything, throwing a few jabs at him might endear her to the liberals in her caucus who’d prefer a more progressive Dem to Bustos as Pelosi’s successor.
Also, what’s up with this tweet, published shortly after the CNN interview today?
This is false-We already have fencing & barriers along parts of the border. I support common sense and effective means to secure the border. We must negotiate to end the #TrumpShutdown but not by giving the President a costly & ineffective taxpayer-funded wall for political cover https://t.co/q8kkFuINHp
— Rep. Cheri Bustos (@RepCheri) January 4, 2019
So Bustos doesn’t want “give and take” on the wall? Even though the wall is the only thing Trump wants? Or is this a case of Nancy yanking her leash after the CNN interview and warning her to get back in line before Republicans take heart from Bustos’s comments and decide to dig in further, believing Dems are about to cave?
I don’t think she’s saying much of anything here, really. In principle America needs more “give and take.” In this specific case, even though Trump’s asking for a pittance compared to what Democrats typically spend on government programs, she’s a hard no — purely to spite him, in keeping with the Democratic mission. If there’s any concrete compromise she’s willing to entertain, it probably involves generic “border” funding. Nothing for the wall but a few billion for “security” generally, just to show that Democrats care. Even though they obviously don’t.