A potential government shutdown is less than 48 hours away. Congress is looking to the president for leadership. And the president is ... tweeting. About the wall. Again.
The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
President Trump’s tweet appears to be in response to reports published yesterday that Chief of Staff John Kelly, in a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called Trump “uninformed” about the realities of the border during the presidential campaign.
The meeting was one of several yesterday between members of the administration and Congress as they scramble to agree on a bill to address the status of the 690,000 young unauthorized immigrants facing the loss of their deportation protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The government will likely shut down Friday at midnight if Congress and the White House cannot come to an agreement.
According to a statement from Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Kelly took credit for educating Trump about the fact that the wall shouldn’t stretch across all 2,000 miles of the US-Mexico border, despite what he occasionally said in the campaign.
Trump has a known allergy to his staff taking credit for things, especially when those things make him look bad. So it’s not surprising that this is what he decided to lash out about.
Indeed, he was admitting that the wall wouldn’t have to be 2,000 miles long before he was elected president. He has been saying that parts of the wall will have to be “see-through,” a request made by Border Patrol agents themselves, so that they can see people and vehicles attempting to cross as they approach, since shortly after his inauguration. The prototypes being built in the desert outside San Diego include several models that meet this requirement (although, somewhat comically, they look like steel fences with concrete walls on top).
But in the context of the impending government shutdown, Trump’s tweet is ridiculous.
Without a DACA deal, it is looking more and more certain that the Senate won’t have the necessary votes to keep the government open. And negotiations on a deal are still unsettled, if not downright chaotic — in large part because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is explicitly saying they can only bring a bill to the floor of the Senate “as soon as we figure out what [the president] is for.”
Bipartisan proposals have emerged in both chambers, but Republican leadership has all but rejected them. Archconservatives are pushing for a sweeping bill that no Democrat has expressed any interest in voting for, and one of the members of the leadership-driven working group said on Wednesday it was time to go “back to the drawing board.”
And notably, of all the policy issues that have gotten entangled with DACA — not just whether and how to legalize the people currently protected under the program, but also border security, family-based immigration, the diversity visa lottery, asylum law, workplace verification, and, incredibly, the Children’s Health Insurance Program — no one is attempting to demand a 2,000-mile wall in exchange for legalizing DACA recipients. The wall is simply not relevant to the negotiations.
The problem is that Trump himself is anything but irrelevant. He boosted negotiations last week when he showed willingness to sign whatever bill Congress could pass — then quashed them when he vehemently criticized a framework designed to meet his parameters.
This is a damning failure of leadership. Until Trump comes to understand that leadership isn’t just affirming you’ve never changed your mind but actually helping decisions get made — or until congressional leaders like McConnell accept that that’s never the kind of leader Trump’s going to be — it’s hard to see how the government avoids a shutdown.