A shutdown of the federal government commenced on Dec. 22, 2018, over President Trump’s demand for a border wall. At the start of 2019, that wall symbolized the deep division between Republicans and Democrats in Washington on the issue of immigration.
Congress had been ready to pass a stopgap funding measure to keep the government open but that effort was stymied when Trump said he would not sign a funding bill without the inclusion of $5 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Democrats have been steadfast in opposing Trump’s request and have made clear they would offer $1.3 billion for border security — but not a wall.
For Trump, the wall that Mexico was supposedly going to pay for had morphed from a campaign promise into a talisman to shore up his low approval ratings. Worried that criticism from conservatives in the media would erode public support for him, it was Trump’s calculation that a hardline immigration stance would help animate his base.
Given the political stakes, some Republicans have tried to compel Democrats to give into Trump’s demands, noting that Democrats have in the past agreed to fund border security. To this end, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday argued the wall had become “a metaphor for border security.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “The wall has become a metaphor for border security” pic.twitter.com/vXrmJpUV52
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 30, 2018
For their part, Democrats have been adamant about the amount of funding they were willing to offer for border security, and the fact that it not be used for the construction of a wall. At heart of the matter were Democrats’ vociferous objections to a monument to xenophobia, which they view as immoral.
“A wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation. And this is not a wall between Mexico and the United States that the president is creating here. It’s a wall between reality and his constituents.” – @SpeakerPelosi #ImWithNancy @TeamPelosi Via CBS pic.twitter.com/2VohFaCZ5A
— HawaiiDelilah (@HawaiiDelilah) January 4, 2019
On Friday, Trump remained intransigent, even insisting that the government could be shut down for “years,” and that he could use emergency powers to build a wall along the southern U.S. border.
The landscape was marked by impasse with Trump’s wall standing as a proxy symbol for the real issue: immigration. Not border security as Graham and Republicans would have people believe, but immigration.
This was made clear by briefing documents prepared by the Department of Homeland Security, which would change laws on the treatment of migrants legally seeking asylum. Greg Sargeant in the Washington Post emphasized that these initiatives were being driven by White House adviser, Stephen Miller, who has been hostile to even legal immigration.
“But the bottom line here is that Trump — and Miller — want other things at least as much, or perhaps even more, than they want the wall. They want deep cuts to legal immigration, and legal changes that will make it easier to lock up families indefinitely, on the grounds that this cruel prospect will dissuade migrants from trying to seek refuge in the U.S.,” wrote Sargeant.
All too often this debate has been structured along the lines of the wall being Trump’s signature campaign promise, with some in the Washington media suggesting Democrats must acquiesce or compromise in order to give Trump his “win.”
But for Democrats, acquiescence or compromise on the issue of immigration would mean a betrayal of their own base and their own Democratic values.
It is time for the establishment media to take seriously the word “immorality” that leading Democrats, such as Pelosi, have used to describe Trump’s wall.
The new House speaker was articulating the Democratic position in unambiguous terms. The wall may be important to Trump and central to maintaining the support of his base. But opposing the wall stood as a moral imperative for Democrats.
[NPR] [The Hill] [Newsweek] [NBC News] [Washington Post] [Photo courtesy Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters via National Review]