The U.S. government is running out of money – this week. But President Donald Trump is blocking a new budget as long as Congress does not finance a border wall with Mexico. Now he is threatening a shutdown.
It was Donald Trump’s first and most important campaign promise. “I will build a great wall on our southern border,” he exclaimed when he announced his candidacy for president in 2015. “And I will make sure that Mexico pays for that wall.”
Trump has been sitting in the White House for more than two years now. The wall is neither built nor paid for, certainly not by Mexico. Now time is running out: Trump only has two days left to achieve this central symbol of his agenda.
That’s because the U.S. House of Representatives, which would have to give its blessing to this project, meets with its current Republican majority only on Thursday and Friday. Then the congressmen go on Christmas and New Year’s vacation, or they go home for good, because they are not up for re-election or have been voted out of office. In January, the Democrats take over. And that would not only kill Trump’s pet project, but the core of his political existence − and his re-election campaign for 2020.
Shutting Down the Government for Border Security
So Trump hitches his dream wall to the last legislative remnants of this year, the still-partially open government budget for 2019. This must include $5 billion for the construction of the wall, he threatens, otherwise he will veto the proposed budget and government funding will be cut off at the end of the week.
That goes beyond what some Republicans are prepared to do. And that is to say nothing of the Democrats, who have offered Trump “only” $1.3 billion for new border fencing.
Trump, however, has remained unyielding, putting on a strong front for his base. If necessary, he will “shut down the government for border security,” he raved last week at a meeting with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in a meeting at the Oval Office. It was, in principle, a presidential burst of outrage on live television. Trump said, among other things about a possible shutdown: “I take the responsibility.”
Shutdowns are more common in Washington if the parties do not agree on a budget. Normally in such cases, however, there is shared blame between both political camps. The consequences would also be dramatic in this case: Some departments would have to close for days if not weeks, particularly parts of Homeland Security and Border Patrol.
But the White House has dug in its heels. During an interview Sunday on CBS, Trump’s immigration adviser was asked if immigration services were planning for a shutdown. “Absolutely,” he said. Meanwhile, Republicans disclosed that some of their representatives are not coming back after the weekend and leaving their party dangling. There would not be a majority vote even for a compromise.
And for what? A defiant, impossible demand.
According to Trump’s wish, the 1,000-mile-long beautiful wall along the entire U.S. border with Mexico would slow illegal immigration as well as drug and human trafficking, although the number of border crossings has already decreased by 82 percent since 2000. According to experts, a wall would not significantly reduce this number any further. Additionally, most drugs come through normal border crossings or secret tunnels. According to a study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, more staffing and newer, modern surveillance technology would be more effective.
The complete Trump wall would cost at least $25 billion. Other estimates are as high as $70 billion. Because Mexico naturally refuses to bankroll this project, Trump is now demanding this money from Congress, from U.S. taxpayers.
In January, the Democrats offered him $25 billion for border security, in exchange for the naturalization of the “Dreamers,” a term which refers to the children of immigrants in the U.S. without documentation, many of whom have never known a country other than the United States. Trump let the compromise blow up. His newest idea involves a renewed trade agreement with Mexico and Canada under which the U.S. would save so much money that Mexico would in fact be paying for construction of the wall. It is a calculation without any understanding of how foreign trade works.
Trump’s current battle cry is, “Finish the wall!” Although he accuses Democrats of blocking the wall, he also boasts to his fans that construction has already begun. That, however, is false. Under Trump, previously existing fences have been patched or raised or enhanced with barbed wire to deter immigrants. In some places, walls that have existed for years were improved, which the government now promotes as new wall. In March, Trump visited eight prototypes south of San Diego, but that, too, was just a public relations spectacle. The first halfway stage of concrete wall construction should be in place in February 2019 at the earliest, consisting of two small test sections in south Texas.
The Ownership Problem
Most of the land along the eastern half of the U.S. border between El Paso and the Atlantic is owned by farmers, private owners or companies. These owners do not give in to being dispossessed of their land or bought out so easily, which is necessary in order to build there. One affected section in southern Texas would involve destruction of a nature reserve. And on the Texas Gulf Coast, the wall would run through land where space giant SpaceX is building a new rocket launcher.