Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is a man with a plan. That plan, according to a recent report from Axios, is to find a way to block funding for the construction of the wall on America’s southern border. The hamsters currently spinning the wheels inside Schumer’s head may want to take a break for a while, but let’s look at the details anyway. The fundamentals seem to be based on the fact that approval of any tax dollars going toward the construction of the wall will require 60 votes in the Senate. Chuck clearly believes that he can prevent the GOP from reaching that bar.
Schumer’s thinking: There’s nothing the Republicans would be willing to offer that could get Trump the eight Democratic Senators he needs to fund the wall. Mitch McConnell’s only other option would be to invoke the nuclear option and bypass the filibuster. But Democratic appropriators are betting the Republican leader won’t be willing to undermine such a fundamental Senate tradition just to pay for Trump’s wall.
The evolving plan, being discussed by Schumer’s office and Senate appropriators: If Republicans put money for the wall into a bill, Democrats block it. It doesn’t matter what else is in the bill — Schumer will make it about the wall. The way Democrats see it, if they can block the wall, they’d crush a central feature of Trump’s political identity. And as the face of the strategy, Schumer would thrill the Democratic base (though less so the red-state Democratic senators up in 2018).
Before getting to the mechanics of how such a vote will play out, we should first look at the far more interesting angle of the story which is the Minority Leader’s motivation for doing it in the first place. He isn’t making any secret of this and it has nothing to do with the ongoing debate over illegal immigration and national security. Schumer is, as the article notes, looking to “crush a central feature of Trump’s political identity.”
Welcome to the next chapter in the ongoing story of the new Party of No. The Democrats have become precisely the same beast they claimed they were fighting the last time the GOP was in the minority. Policy and practicality have simply gone out the window and this is all about attempting to deal defeats to the new president. (I wonder how long it will be before Schumer invokes the phrase one term president.) And what rationale would Chuck Schumer invoke to justify the stance? It’s rather dangerous to come out and say that you oppose the wall for philosophical reasons because that becomes essentially an admission that you not only don’t care about illegal immigration, but you in fact do not wish to see it hampered. The only other alternative is to say that you are concerned about the cost and what effect it might have on the budget and the national debt. Seriously? One can only imagine the guffaws coming from the peanut gallery if any Democrat who supported the Obama spending spree over the last eight years tried to make such a claim.
Returning to the realities of how the Senate operates, is this something that Schumer could possibly pull off, blatant hypocrisy be damned? Possibly, but it doesn’t seem like anything close to a sure bet. There are enough vulnerable Democrats who have already been going along with the GOP on various votes to get any such bill past a potential filibuster. There is also a distinct possibility that the funding for the wall will be rolled into some larger spending bill which can be festooned with many popular items. For the Democrats to block such a measure based on nothing but their objection to the border wall is precisely the type of hill that the GOP would love to see them die on.
Even if Schumer can somehow navigate a path through all those traps, we come back to the question of the dreaded nuclear option. If Trump’s wall truly has enough support among the GOP, this could be yet another case where Mitch McConnell might invoke it. Schumer is obviously betting that he wouldn’t, but if they offer this as an option in Vegas I think that’s a wager I would probably take.