US vice president Mike Pence, Congressional leaders, presidential advisor Jared Kushner, and the Secretary of Homeland Security will meet this weekend to try to hammer out a spending bill to end the US government shutdown, which is heading into its second week.
The negotiations will center, yet again, on securing funding for the border wall between the US and Mexico that Donald Trump has promised voters for years, and they’re likely to be the most difficult yet.
That’s because since he became president, Trump has steadily painted himself into a corner on the issue. After turning down an offer early last year of $25 billion in border security funding, the White House has doubled down on scaremongering on immigration as a way to energize his base, hoping to get more Republicans elected during the midterms.
It may be backfiring—Trump’s midterm results, adjusted for the economy, were the worst of any sitting president since 1918, JP Morgan analysts said. New Democrats in the House were elected to push a more humane immigration system than what Trump is proposing, and pro-immigration groups are being funded and expanded to explain the economic and social benefits of the US’s long tradition of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers. New Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called Trump’s wall “immoral” this week, and joked that the most she’d allocate for it would be $1.
But as Trump demonstrated in December, softening his position means sharp criticism from the very far-right voters and commentators who have bought and spread his anti-immigrant message—and that isn’t something he can take. After Ann Coulter, the white nationalist talking head, called the president “gutless” for compromising with Democrats on wall funding to keep the government open, he did a rapid about face, leading to the current shutdown.
Now Trump’s corner is getting tighter. Early last month, Americans overwhelmingly believed he should have compromised on wall funding to avoid a shutdown. As it rolls on, federal employees are going broke, garbage is piling up in national parks, and Coulter is out for blood. Trump is “going to fold,” she predicted, while calling him a joke president.
In response, Trump just unrolled a tried-and-true strategy: threats and distraction.
On Friday (Jan. 4), the White House released a presentation that made new, onerous demands on immigration, and during a long press conference, Trump brought up sweeping demands that would radically change the US. None of these have been part of recent discussions with Congressional Republicans, and aren’t part of any rational plan to restart the US government.
During the press conference, Trump predicted the government shutdown could last “for years.” Or, he threatened, he could “call a national emergency” and “do it very quickly,” referring to building the wall.
The shocking statement had the desired effect, with journalists scrambling to examine whether Trump could, in fact, declare a national emergency, and what presidential emergency powers actually mean. Even pro-Trump media outlets say it is a step too far.