12.12.2018 0

Don’t back down on the gov’t shutdown and the wall, Mr. President

By Robert Romano

Click here to tell Congress to build the wall now!

“If we don’t have border security, we’ll shut down the government.  This country needs border security… The wall is a part of border security.”

That was President Donald Trump in a Dec. 11 meeting in the Oval Office with soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), outlining the terms of what he will accept in the December government spending bill that will fund the remaining portions of the federal budget for the rest of Fiscal year 2019.

Trump wants the wall he campaigned on, and he’s been waiting for quite a while.

After the 2016 election, Congressional Republicans gathered in Philadelphia to map out their agenda, where it was announced by then-incoming House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that Congress with Republican majorities would fund the southern border wall at $12 billion to $15 billion, calling it one of the most important promises the President had made in the campaign.

Now, two years later, and all Congress has to show for it is the $1.6 billion supplemental the administration requested in 2017, which didn’t pass until 2018, and you have migrant caravans continuing to charge the border on a seasonal basis.

Prior to the 2018 midterms, Trump had signaled he’d be willing to let non-essential funding for the government to lapse, only to be countered by Ryan and McConnell not to pursue a shutdown strategy for fear of losing the House majority.

On Twitter on May 2, 2017, Trump wrote, “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix [the] mess.”

That didn’t end up happening.

So, the wall was not finished, and House Republicans lost their majority anyway in 2018. Trump tried it the GOP Congress’ way. They failed. Today, Trump is being kind but the fact is Congressional Republicans never made this a priority.

Now, Trump is ready to do it his way. He has thrown down the shutdown marker, and he needs to stand his ground. This is what he was elected to do.

Key Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) stood by Trump on his wall demand, telling reporters, “If I were the president, I would dig in and not give in.”

Graham is right. He has long argued that Republicans always give in on government spending issues whenever there is a partial government shutdown, and that they need to use their leverage. It appears with Trump there finally is a president who is willing to do what it takes to win a key part of his agenda.

It’s about time.

The fact is, Nancy Pelosi cannot impose her will on the Senate majority next year, any more so than the Senate Democrat minority can.

That was in part how President Ronald Reagan managed to get massive tax cuts and defense spending increases onto the books in the 1980s. His administration went through a total of eight partial government shutdowns.

To bolster the President’s case, he also needs to develop what I like to call a “veto caucus,” a group of 146 House Republicans and/or 34 Senate Republicans who are willing to sustain a presidential veto.

Reagan had a veto caucus. In 1983, 146 House members signed a letter saying they would vote to sustain presidential vetoes on funding bills. It worked.

Now, it may be that the first funding bill or two that Congress sends to the President will not contain his wall funding. If so, Trump must make good on his threat to veto, and then Republicans will have to rally to him to sustain that veto.

Furthermore, Trump should double down and threaten backpay for federal employees. Usually following government shutdowns, non-essential employees are voted their backpay — for not working — by Congress. Trump should do away with this relic, and nobody in the Washington, D.C. establishment will ever think about shutting down the government ever again.

At least not while Trump is in town.

Take away federal workers’ backpay, and suddenly Trump and Congress has something Democrats need to avert a shutdown.

The American people are fortunate to finally have an administration that is committed to border security, but to curb illegal immigration more fully, the wall is needed. Congress needs to build the wall now and stop making excuses, kicking the can down the road and trying to run out the clock on the Trump legislative agenda.

This is no time for weak links in the chain. For the GOP, this is do or die for 2020.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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