How Trump Let His Goal of Building a Border Wall Slip Away
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump has rebuffed numerous opportunities to secure billions for a border wall, and with Democrats set to take control of the House that goal could be out of reach for good.
Trump’s best chance for border wall funding at the level he wants came in February 2018, when Republican Senator Mike Rounds teamed up with independent Senator Angus King on compromise immigration legislation.
It included $25 billion over a decade to build a wall along the southern border and a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It also barred green card holders from sponsoring adult children for permanent residency and reoriented enforcement priorities to focus on criminals in the country illegally.
Trump torched the bill as a "giant amnesty" for narrowing the scope of deportations, and complained that it didn’t end diversity visas or stop "chain migration" -- his derisive term for laws that allow American citizens to sponsor siblings and parents for green cards.
Amid fierce White House opposition and a veto threat from Trump, just eight Republican senators voted for the bill. With support from Democrats it got 54 votes, but that was short of the 60 needed to advance in the Senate. A separate immigration proposal backed by Trump got just 39 votes.
No Clear Path
Now, with Trump and congressional Democrats at an impasse over the wall money, and with the lack of a clear path forward bringing heightened risk of a partial government shutdown starting next Friday night, Republicans are expressing regrets over the deal that slipped away.
"We had 54 votes without support from our leadership or from the White House. And there were 45 Democrats who agreed to spend $25 billion, not only authorized but appropriated, over a 10 year period of time," Rounds of South Dakota said in an interview Wednesday. "I still think it’s the correct thing to do. I think it would have been a step in the right direction."
"It needs the president’s support in order to proceed," he said.
Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who backed the bill, said it "solved the DACA problem, gave the president what he wanted on border security." Alexander said there’s a lesson in the failure: "We better take these opportunities as they come."
A second opportunity for Trump presented itself in March, when Congress faced a deadline to fund the government and the two parties began negotiations to attach immigration provisions to the measure. Congressional Democratic leaders offered the president $25 billion to build the wall in exchange for a path to citizenship for undocumented youth eligible for DACA.
But the White House and GOP leaders opposed that and offered only a two-and-a-half year protection for DACA beneficiaries in exchange for the $25 billion wall. Democrats said no, arguing that it’d permanently give Trump his wish while leaving Dreamers in limbo after a few years, according to people familiar with the negotiations at the time.
And so the talks fell apart.
Nine months later, Trump’s best hopes of securing his campaign promise to "build a wall" are gone. Democrats, who recently won control of the House, have rejected his plea for $5 billion to begin building a concrete wall as part a spending bill to fund part of the government.
Republican leaders, who still control the House and Senate, are stuck with no ready way to get such a measure through Congress. No concrete proposal has been offered to break the stalemate and no vote has yet been scheduled on a government funding bill before the money runs out after Dec. 21.
Fresh off winning 40 House seats in a wave election, Democrats’ price of negotiation for a wall has gone up: Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi of California said last Thursday she’d oppose fully funding Trump’s wall in exchange for a permanent DACA solution, saying it would be "immoral, ineffective, expensive."
No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas said it’s a "shame" that Pelosi is no longer willing to consider a DACA deal for wall funding. "It’s a missed opportunity," he said.
Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Trump "believes that his hard line on immigration is one of his real strengths with his political base."
"We gave him every chance for his godawful wall back in February on a bipartisan vote if he would solve this problem with DACA and the parents involved. He walked away from it," Durbin said. "We don’t know that we can trust negotiations with him on that issue, based on that experience."
The standoff intensified after an acrimonious Oval Office meeting Trump held Tuesday with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, in which a visibly angry president threatened a shutdown over the wall.
"I will shut down the government," Trump said. "I am proud to shut down the government for border security."
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.