President Donald Trump won’t let up on the border wall, and is reportedly set to ask Congress for $8.6 billion to deliver on his signature campaign promise — even after his smaller border-security ask prompted the longest shutdown in American history.
Despite continued congressional resistance, Trump plans to submit a budget request to Congress tomorrow that, in addition to cutting non-military federal spending, would add $5 billion to the Department of Homeland Security’s budget and $3.6 billion from the Department of Defense’s military construction funds, Reuters reported this morning.
Though the executive branch’s budget requests are just that — requests — they help set the tone for Congress’s annual debates over how to appropriate federal funds, not to mention the tone for Trump’s 2020 campaign.
But the wall has become a political nightmare for Trump. The last time he demanded wall funds from Congress, it turned into a 35-day government shutdown that ended in defeat for the president when he signed a spending bill that gave him far short of his $5.7 billion request. Trump paired his signature on the bill with a dramatic move: declaring a national emergency on the southern border. His attempt to circumvent Congress’s power of the purse will likely lead to his first veto.
There’s still confusion about what, exactly, the wall is (bollards? slats?) and how much of it has already been built, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from teeing up another no-holds-barred political fight for 2019.
.@realDonaldTrump hurt millions of Americans and caused widespread chaos when he recklessly shut down the government to try to get his expensive and ineffective wall, which he promised would be paid for by Mexico. pic.twitter.com/YtljS96gcD
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) March 10, 2019
This tactic didn’t work last time, so why try again?
This new spending demand, billions of dollars higher than the last one, will meet the same resistance. But “building the wall” — sometimes “finish the wall,” depending on the context — is a key issue for Trump’s base. Walking away from that promise is not an option.
Backed into a corner after the longest shutdown in US history started hurting the economy and affecting everyday Americans, Trump saw declaring a national emergency as a way out, as Vox’s Li Zhou reported:
It’s clear that a government shutdown is a political loser for Trump, after the recent one proved disastrous for his approval ratings — but he also fears criticism from his conservative base, who say he hasn’t done enough to deal with what he says is a crisis at the southern border.
By signing the spending bill and declaring a national emergency, he can prevent another shutdown, while also claiming to live up to his campaign promise of building a border wall.
But as Vox’s Tara Golshan reported, “shutdown brinksmanship” — that is, “the game of using the government shutdown to leverage a policy win” — didn’t work, and put Republicans in a tough position.
Conservatives and the Trump White House are stuck. They have to either admit that they gravely underestimated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ability to keep Democrats unified against the border wall or say the shutdown was a political play — one that forced 800,000 federal employees to miss two paychecks over the holidays.
The administration wants to fund 722 miles of barriers along the southern border, and they say the $8.6 billion on top of the national emergency funds could get them there. The fight will ramp up this fall, as spending bills need to pass by October 1 to keep the government open.
Another shutdown could have major consequences the country
The partial closure’s effects were felt nationwide. The government employees and contractors who went without pay were the most visibly affected, but the federal government is a major player in almost all areas of American life. Nicole Fallert rounded up some of the shutdown’s hidden costs:
- While Food and Drug Administration inspections of high-risk food manufacturing facilities have continued, routine checks on low-risk facilities have stopped, as Julia Belluz detailed for Vox. The agency oversees about 80 percent of the country’s food supply. USDA inspections have continued without interruption.
- Furloughed workers are struggling to even access food. The Department of Agriculture regularly funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). SNAP is only guaranteed funds through February, as Tara Golshan wrote for Vox. The New York Times’s Glenn Thrush found that some workers have turned to a local shelter or pantry, but these organizations are also struggling to meet a higher demand for services.
- Thrush also found that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is struggling to regularly subsidize payments for home renters. Renters are being asked to pay money they don’t have to make up the difference because the government isn’t.
- More than 40,000 immigration hearings (and counting) have been canceled due to the shutdown, according to a report by the Transactional Records Access Clearing House at Syracuse University. For these people who legally applied for asylum, there was already a backlog, according to a CNN report. More than 300 judges have been furloughed as well as workers hiring new judges. Rescheduling each canceled hearing could take years, and the true number of people from around the world who are impacted won’t be known until the shutdown is over.
And further shutdowns could make a serious impact on the economy, but Trump isn’t backing down. “We don’t control our own border,” he said when he announced the national emergency. “So we’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border. And we’re going to do it one way or the other — we have to do it.”
He went on to clarify that this wasn’t just because it was a campaign promise, but with only four in 10 voters saying they’ll back him for reelection, he can’t afford to lose his base.
“He’s going to stay with his wall, and he’s going to stay with the border security theme,” Larry Kudlow, the White House’s top economic adviser, said on Fox News on Sunday. “I think it’s essential.”