President Trump made $5.7 billion into a magic number when he claimed that was what’s needed to secure the border. Democrats are never going to give him that amount. If Trump had simply focused on the policy of keeping the country safe, and not on a particular number, he might already be out of the current shutdown showdown with a win.
Instead, he latched on to the number and made his arguments as much about securing a dollar amount as the end goal. That primed his supporters to use billions to measure his success.
He refused to support a bipartisan compromise in February 2018 that would have given him $25 billion over 10 years, including $2.5 billion that year. Trump then rejected a stopgap spending bill in December that would have prevented a shutdown and left more time for lawmakers to reach a deal. Instead, he told now Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “ I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”
The government did shut down, and even if Trump kept up his facade of pride, lawmakers didn’t. The stunt was an avoidable fiasco and everyone was relieved when Trump announced that he’d reopen the government to jump-start new negotiations.
Now, with the deadline to fund the government coming up once again, lawmakers on Monday night worked out a compromise to avert another painful and wasteful shutdown.
That deal would keep the government open and give Trump a chunk of money, $1.375 billion to be precise, for his border wall. It’s certainly not what the White House wanted, but it would prevent another costly shut down and get some of his wall built.
Trump should take it while he can. He should make a show of accepting the compromise, hold himself up as a leader, and then do a nice photo op as soon as construction starts at the border. He should talk up how he is building the wall, that he wants Congress involved, and how the $1.375 billion is simply a down payment, sure to be re-upped once everyone sees how well it works.
By all accounts, that would be a victory for the president marred only, of course, by the shutdown that didn’t seem so necessary after all.
But to pull that off, he’d have to stop talking about $5.7 billion as if extracting the money from Congress, dollar by dollar if necessary, was as important as starting to fix real issues at the border. Unilateral demands for money it turns out are not great material for the policy compromise necessary to keep the government running.