The politics behind the government shutdown: Column
By Rich Elfers
The partial government shutdown started on Friday, Dec. 21, at midnight. The issue is over money to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The estimated cost to do so is $25 billion. President Trump wants $5 billion as a start. Democrats are needed to get the necessary 60 Senate votes to pass funding to keep the government open.
The Democrats refuse to pay for any part of the wall but have offered to spend $1.3 billion for border security. They also are pushing for relief for DACA immigrants (Deferred Relief for Childhood Arrivals), immigrant children brought to the U.S illegally as children.
The Democrats are holding President Trump to his words in a meeting between Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer a week before the shutdown when he stated he would take “the mantle” for a partial government shutdown. President Trump is now blaming the Democrats, despite his words.
As of Jan. 3, the Democrats, probably led by Nancy Pelosi, will take control of the House of Representatives. The change in the House means that the likelihood of any more money for the border wall is dead for the next two years, the rest of President Trump’s term of office.
Why has the border wall become such a big issue that hundreds of thousands of federal workers have either been furloughed or required to work without pay until an agreement is reached?
The answer is a campaign promise President Trump made when running for the presidency in 2016. He promised to build the wall to keep out illegal immigrants. He also promised to make the Mexicans pay for building it.
Trump’s major concern is the 2020 election where he wants to get elected for a second term. He needs to demonstrate to his political base that he is a person who keeps his promises. Conservative Fox News commentators have told him he must stand up to the Democrats or he will lose his credibility to his supporters. Backing down to the Democrats makes him look weak. An appearance of weakness is not good politics.
President Trump has painted himself into a corner and is looking for a way out. It has become a standoff that has caused the stock market to drop and has created jitters for businesses and workers across the nation.
The promise of a wall itself is largely symbolic to President Trump’s base.
Realistically, having a 30’ wall or fence with slats will not keep illegal immigrants from coming into this country. There are thousands of miles of coastlines, and many, if not most, illegal immigrants come to this nation by air, and then overstay their visas. It’s far easier to come in this way than it is to risk one’s life by crossing the border by foot across a hot and waterless desert. Drug dealers dig extensive tunnels under the border which could easily be converted to paths for access for undocumented immigrants for the right price.
Most Trump supporters are not
really concerned with the details, or the reality of keeping illegals out of the country. The real issue for them is trust. They want a president who cares for their concerns and keeps his promises.
If the Trump base really wanted to keep out illegal immigrants, his supporters would demand that Congress pass laws that enforce the 1986 Reagan Era Reform and Control Act. One major provision of this act is that employers could be fined up to $10,000 per illegal immigrant hired.
This provision has not been enforced for several reasons. One reason is that it is easy for immigrants to obtain forged IDs and Social Security cards. Another reason is that this provision has never been funded adequately to enforce the law. Businesses do not want to use E-Verify to determine whether their workers are working legally. It’s easier and cheaper to hire illegals than it is to hire citizens and legal immigrants.
Democrats understand that building the border wall is too expensive, too inefficient, and will require owners of their property to give up their private land for public use.
Democrats know that the president has painted himself into a political corner. They’re gleeful at the position he has put himself in.
Time and power are on the side of the Democrats. The 2020 elections are looming, and the Democrats, like the Republicans after the election of President Obama in 2008, want to make Donald Trump a one-term president.
Rich Elfers is a columnist with the Courier-Herald in Enumclaw, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor. He can be contacted at email@example.com.