President Trump listens during a Cabinet meeting at the White House, February 12, 2019. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
The great National Review editor James Burnham famously said, “When there is no alternative, there is no problem.” By this standard, the border deal reached by congressional appropriators this week isn’t a problem for Donald Trump.
The deal falls far short of his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a barrier at the border. At $1.37 billion, it is short even of what had been the Senate’s bipartisan compromise of $1.6 billion before the shutdown drama.
But the other options aren’t palatable. If the president opts for a so-called continuing resolution in lieu of the deal, he will get less funding for a barrier, because the CR is based on current spending levels. If he opts for another shutdown confrontation, he is likely to be abandoned by Senate Republicans not eager for a third kick from Mitch McConnell’s proverbial mule.
If this is a disappointing state of affairs, it’s a product of poor choices, by Trump and congressional Republicans, on one of the president’s top political priorities. It was malpractice not to get more funding for a border barrier out of Congress when it was held by Republicans (though the Democrats might have filibustered any deal they didn’t like). It was bizarre that the White House didn’t formally request more funding last year, before Trump drastically increased his demand to $5.7 billion near the end of process. Finally, it was foolhardy to lurch into a shutdown without a viable strategy for getting out of it.
At least the current deal doesn’t reflect Nancy Pelosi’s vow not to approve a dollar for a border barrier, and Democrats backed off their demand in the negotiations for a hard cap on ICE detentions.
So, the cup is a quarter full. Of course, this isn’t to President Trump’s liking. We bristle at any president who talks of going around Congress the way Trump has, but if there are really pots of money that can be legally diverted to the wall, this would be his prerogative (and Congress should consider tightening up on the purse strings going forward).
But taking the congressional compromise shouldn’t be a problem for Trump — because there’s no alternative.