Shutdown countdown: Trump budging on wall?

On Friday, the federal government will begin a shutdown if Congress does not pass authorization for new spending. The biggest obstacle to an agreement has been the border wall, which Donald Trump promised to build but Democrats refuse to fund. Late yesterday, both sides softened their stance somewhat, as the Washington Post reports, but its not clear that the gap has closed. Trump now says he’s open to pushing off funding for the wall until the FY2018 budget:

But with a Friday deadline looming to pass a new spending bill, the Trump administration projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided. In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.

Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, are offering to fund the so-called “virtual wall” in the FY2017 omnibus bill:

Democrats, meanwhile, gave the White House an opening, saying they would agree to some new money for border security — so long as it did not go toward the creation of a wall, something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called “immoral.”

In a speech on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the idea of a wall while suggesting that a combination of smart technology and law enforcement, including the use of drones, would be “a much more effective way to secure the border” without hitting an impasse in Congress.

Needless to say, that would be quite a compromise for Trump. It’s not an exaggeration to say that his promise to build a wall on the southern border formed the core of his campaign, especially in its early days. Even more than its literal (and popular) meaning, that promise served to set him apart from the other Republicans in the field, who discussed border security in less specific terms and wanted to work toward a comprehensive settlement of immigration policies. Trump would take action and cut through the double-talk in Washington DC, and the wall was a powerful symbol of that promise.

It’s telling that the people who are trying to sell this compromise, at least in the WaPo report, are the same Republicans against whom Trump railed — and ran, for that matter. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for instance, said that the promise of a wall was actually “symbolic of better border security,” and not a literal wall. Rob Portman suggested that the wall would be a mix of barrier and technology anyway, so moving ahead on the technology side would still be a win.

Perhaps, but it seems highly unlikely that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi see it that way, especially given the rhetoric involved in the campaign. They’ll sell it as just an adjustment of the status quo, which … is not terribly unusual for omnibus bills that follow continuing resolutions anyway. But it might be tougher for Trump to sell this to his base for that reason, as well as the lack of construction funds for the wall itself. Trump got elected to disrupt the status quo, not to get caught up by it. Backing away from the wall, even as a tactical retreat, will not build confidence in his ability to contend with the Washington establishment — and it’s difficult to see how these calculations change in September when it comes time to get the funds in the FY2018 budget.