Americans can be excused for not celebrating in the streets Wednesday when word leaked out that President Donald Trump will not be vetoing the border security agreement recently negotiated in Congress, which means that a second shutdown of the federal government appears to have been averted. It simply isn’t customary to toast common sense. The avoidance of a crisis that was, in retrospect, so easily avoided isn’t something Washington should be any more excited about than we are about our leaders’ choice not to start each morning by pouring scalding hot coffee over their heads. Who expects congratulations for that?
But there is an important lesson here. And not just that House Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi are going to have a lot of influence on what happens over the next two years. Or that border security — especially related to Central American refugees daring to seek a decent, safe life beyond their borders — is the most hyper-inflated domestic issue of our time. Rather, it is that President Trump can be corralled into making the correct choices even on an issue where his all-important political base is so emotionally invested. When Democrats in the House and Republican leaders like Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby in the Senate work together, they can, for lack of a better description, fence the president in.
Oh, the border security debate isn’t over yet and probably won’t be for the remainder of Mr. Trump’s time in office. We have little doubt about that. White House advisers have already let it be known that they continue to scheme to find ways President Trump can divert federal dollars into wall funding whether it means stealing from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or picking the pocket of the U.S. Treasury’s forfeiture account or perhaps diverting military construction funds. Some but not all of those manipulations may require him to declare a national emergency. And those efforts, should they materialize, will have to be dealt with on their own terms.
But take a moment to appreciate how thoroughly the legislative branch — and most especially GOP leadership — boxed Mr. Trump in. Lawmakers showed no stomach for a second shutdown. They recognized that Speaker Pelosi, in particular, had little incentive to capitulate and that Democrats won their House majority on the strength of their opposition to Mr. Trump’s extremist immigration stand. They signed onto a deal that results in less border security funding than the president could have had last year when the Senate approved funds for that purpose. And what did they do when they saw the arrangement would result in no more than 55 miles of new “barrier?” Leadership spoke out in one voice to announce what a great victory their team had achieved.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy described Democrats as having caved on border wall funding. “You have to remember where [Speaker] Pelosi was — she who said no money for a wall,” he observed during an appearance earlier this week on CNBC. “That’s not the case. The Democrats have now agreed to more than 55 miles of new barrier being built.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly urged Mr. Trump to support the measure, telling reporters on Tuesday that the president got “a pretty good deal.” You could practically hear the wheels turning in their heads: “No shutdown, no shutdown, no shutdown.”
It’s possible, of course, that this moment of sanity will come and go and Washington will return to the Trump approach to governance with its trademark fear-mongering and nationalism, outrageous behavior, tirades and scandals, erratic foreign policy and decision-making by whim. Or, maybe, just maybe, members of Congress will recognize that on issues of importance they can sit down and talk turkey, compromise and come to agreement and then force a reasonable course of action on a president who may recognize that his re-election chances in 2020 are greater the more he’s in “executive time” and the less he’s caught sticking his foot in his mouth.
That kind of Congress-built wall would be infinitely more useful than any barrier to be built on the Southwest border. Meanwhile, if Mr. Trump is serious about doing something about drug smuggling, he can surely find money to pay for more drug-sniffing dogs instead of bricks and mortar. It was, after all, a tractor-trailer carrying cucumbers that produced the largest-ever seizure of fentanyl by U.S. Customs and Border Protection last month in Arizona. The president would get universal applause for that action as well.