This week, President Donald Trump took to the airwaves in his first Oval Office address followed by a live response from the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. Neither the White House nor Congressional Democrats offered much more than a summary of talking points that Americans have heard from both sides for weeks.
However, there was one noticeable difference: President Trump reframed his argument. His signature border wall had been rebranded as a “barrier,” and was offered in the context of a more comprehensive border security package which included ideas that Democrats would support, like more funding for courts and technology for law enforcement.
Democrats, for their part, reiterated their desire to pass the bill that had already gone through the Senate in December with bipartisan support and was once again just passed in the House. That bill would get the government running again and paychecks back in the hands of over 800,000 federal employees while leaving the door open to real negotiations on border security.
Some Senate Republicans are growing weary of the stalemate with a handful of moderate and potentially vulnerable GOP members expressing some willingness to support the kind of approach Democrats are offering.
Even though members of his party are softening, President Trump remains unwilling to budge. He refuses to support a bill that would reopen the government if it doesn’t include “barrier” funding.
His firm position was on display as he walked out of a meeting with Democrats, claiming they’re unwilling to compromise on a wall even if the government reopens. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s conduct a “temper tantrum” and said they are no farther along than they were before the holidays.
In the meantime, real Americans are caught in the middle. Furloughed federal workers will continue to go unpaid and, if a compromise is not found soon, vulnerable families will go without food assistance. Most Americans are blaming Trump for the shutdown according to polls by Politico and Reuters, and it looks like Trump risks alienating independent voters in an effort to placate his base.
In my view, the Democrats’ solution to end the stalemate seems the most logical, but the least appealing to President Trump who is concerned that any softening could lead to losing leverage over Democrats, who would presumably have no motivation to give wall funding without the hammer of a shutdown.
Furthermore, I place significant blame on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has the ability to bring up for a vote one of these bills that could pass both chambers but risks not being signed by the president.
Instead of forcing President Trump’s hand to govern, McConnell is acting more like a political strategist than a leader. He is abdicating his duties in an equal branch of government because he is trying to protect President Trump from being put in a politically compromised position.
There is a clear path forward. McConnell needs to allow the Senate to pass the House bill to reopen the government. Democrats should then take Trump’s offer of increased funding for security priorities that they support, and provide some votes for some kind of border structure funding with made-in-America guarantees for the materials used.
Republicans need to realize that they will never get enough federal dollars out of Congress to build a coast-to-coast border wall, but something is better than nothing.
Rome wasn't built in a day. The wall won’t be either. So, step up Congress. Pass a bill to reopen the government and stop being afraid of who owns the blame.