February 21, 2019 | Reading Time: 6 minutes
Trump ‘Outlawed’ His Own Wall
That's what happens when right-wing media runs the country.
Nancy Pelosi sent a letter late Wednesday to House Democrats encouraging her caucus to support a resolution opposing the president’s national emergency declaration. This is the beginning of a process the Editorial Board noted last week.
The House Speaker is using the same set of federal statutes the president is using to get around the Congress to build a border wall no one wants to pay for. These laws give one chamber of the Congress the power to compel another chamber to take a vote. In forcing the Senate to take up the House resolution, the Democrats are forcing the Republicans there to take a position with respect to Donald Trump’s unconstitutional abuse of power. This is something the Republicans want to avoid.
As the Editorial Board wrote Friday: “In bypassing the Congress to build a border wall, Trump is taking his party down a road it does not want to go down, because traveling that road will over time expose something the Republicans have tried mightily to conceal, which is that Trump is profoundly weak.” That time is pretty soon.
A president is only as strong, or as weak, as his party, and that’s the subject of today’s newsletter. The GOP is terrible at governing. This is not news. Less well known is the party’s subordination to the right-wing media. This episode over the wall is being driven by demands of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Laura Ingraham.
Hannity, Limbaugh and others who matter to Trump are good communicators, but bad legislatures. They do not and will not care about the nitty-gritty of lawmaking. That dynamic can put a president and his Republicans in a pickle. Even when they do something they think will please their right-wing critics, they end up doing something that displeases them. The result is Trump being damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, and not knowing which is which unless it’s too late to change course.
Case in point is last week’s funding bill. What everybody knows is the bill keeps the government open and running, and that the president is simultaneously doing an end-run around the Congress to build his wall by declaring an emergency. (We also know border states, as well as private property owners in border states, are suing to stop the administration.) What everybody does not know is that the same funding bill is almost certainly going to prevent any kind of barrier from ever being built.
The Bulwark’s Andrew Egger had the goods late Friday.
The bill sneaks in provisions requiring the Department of Homeland Security to get permission from local elected officials before building barriers in counties along the border—while also opting only to authorize new walls in the Rio Grande Valley, where local governments are overwhelmingly Democratic (my italics).
Andrew Egger went on:
The bill blocks border security agents from detaining “anyone who has effectively any relationship with an ‘unaccompanied’ minor—either because they’re sponsors, in the same household as sponsors, or even just ‘potential sponsors’ (or in the household of potential sponsors!) of such a child (once again, my italics).
Put another way, the president is violating the Constitution to build a border wall that federal law now makes pretty much impossible. Moreover, the administration is now barred from touching any immigrant who has any kind of relationship with any minor, in effect turning children into a shield of legal immunity for families seeking asylum. (They were already legally entitled to seek asylum, but the CPB is violating that right.)
In other words, the president is getting nothing for his trouble, nothing except more humiliation and even potential rebuke from his own party after House Democrats force Senate Republicans to take a position on his unconstitutional abuse of power, thus exposing the president’s weakness inside his own party, thus laying the groundwork, perhaps, for a Republican to primary the incumbent in 2020.
All of this could have been avoided, though I don’t know how.
The Republicans are terrible at governing. They are subordinate to critics in the right-wing media who do not know or do not care about the nitty-gritty of lawmaking. That gives the Democrats, who are good at governance and good at lawmaking, a clear advantage when it comes to must-pass legislation. The right-wing media opened the box, the president obediently climbed in, and the Democrats quietly closed the lid.
There is a lesson here for Democrats.
The pressure right now, from some quarters, is on the party to get on board the Green New Deal. While this is a great idea worthy of debate, there’s a long way to go before anyone in the party is going to risk his or her reputation on legislation that’s barely vetted. Yet a small minority is attacking the Democrats, accusing them of “quelling” the Green New Deal, threatening that they will suffer electoral consequences.
I favor lighting the Democrats’ feet on fire, but I also favor knowing, understanding and, as much as possible, anticipating the political fallout from potential legislation before turning it into law. That senators like Dick Durbin are open to but skeptical of the Green New Deal is not occasion for lighting his feet on fire. It’s confirmation that climate change reform is feasible, and that liberals need to put in the work.
In some ways, the Democrats should be more like the Republicans.
This, however, isn’t one of them.
Letter to the editor
I have to say, I am appalled by your last two editorials that don’t amount to much more than anti-Bernie hit pieces despite your lame attempts to hedge your bets.
On race, it’s been well-documented that Bernie has been fighting the good fight via words and actions since his youth. He, like any other straight white male, will never have an intrinsic understanding of the race problem, but he’s proven that he understands the issues as thoroughly as he possibly can. Even Dr. King came to understand that trying to fix race by focusing on race alone is a limited approach. The underlying problems of wealth inequality and unchecked capitalism exacerbate race problems and must be addressed in order to establish significant, long-term change.
As for his party affiliation, Bernie has caucused with the Democrats since he became a senator, and votes with them often. His status as an independent is a boon, not a detriment. Independents support him for it, and Republicans feel more at ease with him, too. If the idea is to beat Trump in the general, we need a candidate that can win red and purple gerrymandered districts. We had a generally popular blue candidate in 2016, and it didn’t win us the election.
And that brings me to this latest article with a headline that preemptively assumes the worst despite your ostensible hopes to the contrary. Vladimir Putin did everything in his power to keep Hillary Clinton our of office. That much is true. Why does Bernie have to “own up” to that? Did he have a hand in it? No. Was he seen having dinner with Russians a la Jill Stein? No. Has he railed against Russian interference since 2016? Yes. And it’s disappointing that you write as if he hasn’t.
My hopes for 2020 is that we coalesce behind a single candidate. If it’s not Bernie, that’s fine. But if it is, articles like this will help give Trump four more years, and we can’t afford that.