If you believe the polling on this question, the answer is not many. That hasn’t discouraged Donald Trump from pushing a budget showdown over funding for the border wall, as Politico found out yesterday. If Trump doesn’t get $5 billion earmarked for the wall, he says he’s willing to shut down the still-unfunded parts of the government … which includes border security, even if the $5 billion doesn’t:
Nine days ahead of a deadline that could trigger a partial government shutdown, with no solution in sight, the president told POLITICO in a Tuesday Oval Office interview that he is unflinchingly firm Congress must send him a bill approving $5 billion for his wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and said he would “totally be willing” to shut down the government if he doesn’t get it. Democratic leaders — including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — have said they would approve $1.6 billion for the wall, placing the two sides billions of dollars apart as the lame-duck session begins.
Raising the stakes even higher for the GOP, Trump said the $5 billion would only cover the physical border. “The number is larger for border security,” he said.
Congress and the White House have already passed most of the FY2019 funding plan, don’t forget. The major portions still awaiting their appropriations are State, Justice, aaaaaand Homeland Security, the latter two of which are key to border security and immigration enforcement. A shutdown will make the situation worse in the short run rather than better, and with migrant caravans arriving at the border now, it seems like a rather bad time to stand down for Homeland Security.
Regardless, Trump wants to press on. He told Politico that he’s not interested in the political calculation but in doing what’s necessary. But, Trump says, the border wall is a total winner:
Sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, with a stack of papers, magazines and a soda at the ready, Trump said he now believes that a pitched battle over the border is a “total winner” politically for his party, and a loser for Democrats.
“I don’t do anything … just for political gain,” Trump said. “But I will tell you, politically speaking, that issue is a total winner. People look at the border, they look at the rush to the police, they look at the rock throwers and really hurting three people, three very brave border patrol folks — I think that it’s a tremendous issue, but much more importantly, is really needed. So we have to have border security.”
Just how much of a “total winner” is it? Trump’s big message during the midterms was border security, and Republicans lost at least 39 seats in the House with a few more contests left to settle. The GOP picked up a surprise Senate seat in Florida along with expected flips in deep-red North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana, but they missed out in Montana and West Virginia while losing a seat in normally Republican Arizona. Given the normal dynamics of first-term midterms the losses weren’t dramatic, but they were losses, and not winners, especially in the suburbs where the border-security issue needed to play well.
Trump’s right in one sense; it’s not really electoral positioning in play here. Now that Democrats control the House, there’s no way Trump gets his border-wall funding after January. It’s now or never, and Trump knows it. He’s got little choice but to play hardball to get the funds, and with the recent violence at the border, perhaps no better context in which to demand it. He’s making that point with Republicans on Capitol Hill, the New York Times reported last night:
President Trump told House Republican leaders on Tuesday that Congress must accede to his demand to include $5 billion for a southern border wall in a hefty year-end spending bill, intensifying a fight over one of his signature campaign promises that could lead to a partial government shutdown next week.
With less than 10 working days to wrestle out the details of an anticipated seven-bill spending package and deliver a measure to the president’s desk, Democrats have shown little sign of giving in to Mr. Trump’s demands. But House Republican leaders said after a private White House meeting that Mr. Trump would not back down, and sought to turn Democrats’ opposition against them.
So yes, it appears Trump is very serious about this threat, both in public and in private. Will it work? Chuck Schumer seemed to indicate that he’d play Let’s Make a Deal yesterday, as Allahpundit noted, maybe for the whole $5 billion, which is a relative drop in the bucket in budgetary matters anyway (and just a head start on total construction costs, for that matter). With the increased leverage Schumer will have after January with a House majority to back him up, though, he’s going to want something significant in return to give Trump his victory. Schumer might be a little gun-shy about shutdowns after his DACA debacle, but he also knows this one will be fully on Trump.
So what does Schumer demand? A Mueller-protection bill? It looks like Jeff Flake has already won him that much. Maybe a return of the filibuster on presidential appointments? That’d be too high an ask. I’d guess that Schumer will demand his DACA deal, which would prompt Trump to demand his other “pillars” on immigration. Maybe we can wrap up the whole thing before New Year … or maybe we’ll just shut government down until then. Bet on the latter, if that’s Schumer’s ask.