01.02.2019 0

Trump gets the wall—if the GOP sticks together

By Robert Romano

Tomorrow, on Jan. 3, the new Congress will be sworn in — and that’s when the government shutdown is bound to get really interesting.

Lacking a majority in the House, with Nancy Pelosi now returning as Speaker, Republicans will be unable to block a spending bill from passing that chamber, putting pressure on the GOP Senate to deliver a bill to President Donald Trump that once again does not include substantial funding for the southern border wall.

But, as the GOP learned in 2013, Pelosi alone cannot force her will upon the Senate and the White House.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can just say no and block the bill from coming to the floor. Elections have consequences, and with Trump barnstorming the country in the midterms, Republicans picked up two seats in the Senate in 2018, an historical rarity for a President’s first midterm election.

A negotiated end to the partial government shutdown that includes substantial funding for the wall — the House while under Republican control already passed $5.7 billion — will be the only way this ends. If Republicans will just stick together.

Which, even if some members don’t care about building the wall, they should care about Republican presidents’ future ability to get their agendas enacted.

To a large extent, with partial government shutdowns, Ronald Reagan was able to get his tax cuts and defense spending increases through Congress, even though Democrats controlled the House, because he had a GOP Senate that backed him up.

That’s one scenario. The other is that McConnell lets the funding bill without the wall come to the floor, it passes, and then dares Trump to veto it.

Here, Trump still has cards to play. If 146 House Republicans and/or 34 GOP Senators vote to sustain the veto — or say they will — then the legislative stalemate cannot be resolved without the wall.

Ideally, McConnell and Trump will do both by coordinating their approach, noting the futility of bringing a spending bill to the Senate floor that will just be vetoed, and producing the list of names of those who will sustain the veto.

A failure in this regard will badly damage the Republican brand and put 2020 — where Republicans can expand their majorities — into doubt. Like it or not, the GOP needs to keep the Trump base intact through November 2020. Failing to deliver the wall would be like Reagan with no tax cuts, or George H.W. Bush with new taxes. It’s suicide.

The argument is somewhat trivial when one considers the fact that there is already more than 600 miles of fencing and other barriers on the southern border. What’s another 300 miles or so? This is what Trump ran on. He won. That’s it. With illegal immigrants, drugs and gangs continuing to press on the southern border, it’s time to get tough.

Besides, there is more in the spending bill than just the wall. Republicans have laundry lists of policy riders and other items they are hoping to get through. If they stick together, it can all be included.

The real leverage of the shutdown comes down to hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are not getting paid. A couple of weeks of no pay probably won’t hurt that much, but if this drags out, mortgage payments and utility bills will start to prove onerous. Ultimately, nobody really wants that, which is why spending bills tend to get passed and include White House priorities, regardless of the party in power.

That’s the way this should play out. The question is whether Republicans will stick together. Stay tuned.

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

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