ANALYSIS — It took 35 days, but President Donald Trump ultimately caved to Democratic demands that he reopen the government before they’d entertain negotiations on border security. And in 21 more, Trump will have to decide whether to give in again, because he’s not likely to get what he wants.
Trump agreed Friday to back a three-week continuing resolution that will reopen the government through Feb. 15. But he is not giving up on his quest to secure funding for wall along the southern border.
“We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump said as he concluded remarks from the Rose Garden announcing the deal to temporarily reopen government. “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15 again or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”
Democrats say they will not agree to provide funding for the wall, period. If they were willing to entertain that, they would’ve done so before the government shutdown in December or in the more than a month since as roughly 800,000 federal workers went without pay.
“Have I not been clear on the wall?” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday when one asked if Democrats would continue to object to wall funding in the upcoming negotiations. “I’ve been very clear.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer was more direct: “Democrats are against the wall.”
Trump agreed to reopen government “without preconditions,” the New York Democrat noted, as he proudly pointed out that the agreement endorses the position Democrats have held throughout the shutdown.
“Our unity is our power,” Pelosi said. “And that is what maybe the president underestimated.”
With Democrats still dug in against the wall, it’s difficult to see a solution coming out of the House-Senate conference committee formed as part of the deal to negotiate differences over border security funding.
Add to that, conference committees on less contentious issues have often taken longer to produce results than lawmakers initially estimated.
The only incentive for Democrats to give Trump some wall money — or funding for a steel barrier with “see-through visibility,” as the president suggested Friday — would be to avoid another government shutdown come Feb. 15.
But even that likely won’t be incentive enough.
Democrats did not shoulder much of the blame for the longest shutdown in history, at least according to public polls that lay more of the blame at Trump’s feet. So they have little reason to worry about getting blamed for another one over the same issue.
Another reason Democrats are unlikely to give Trump any wall funding is because it could be seen as rewarding him for the shutdown. Throughout the last month, Democrats constantly criticized his “hostage taking” of government workers to fulfill a campaign promise and said any capitulation on the wall would encourage Trump to use the tactic again to extract other policy priorities.
“We cannot hold our public employees hostage because we have a disagreement,” Pelosi reminded reporters Friday after the deal was announced.
So ultimately, three weeks from now Trump will have a choice to make. And he’s already outlined his options: shut down the government again or declare a national emergency.
The former would be bad politics. Trump will curry no favor with Republican or Democratic voters for shutting down the government a second time after temporarily reopening it without any concessions.
The national emergency declaration seems like the more likely option. Trump suggested as much Friday at a separate event after his Rose Garden speech.
“We’ll work with the Democrats and negotiate, and if we can’t do that, then … obviously we’ll do the emergency because that’s what it is,” he said. “It’s a national emergency.”
There is, of course, another option that Trump may not like but lawmakers in both parties would probably prefer. Use another short-term continuing resolution to keep to the government open past Feb. 15 as negotiations continue down the long road to no wall funding.