Between the dates of Dec. 22, 2018, and Jan. 25, 2019, the United States government was partially shut down after President Donald Trump refused to sign any funding bills that did not include the $5.7 billion he wanted for his wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. This 35-day shutdown was the longest in American history, and resulted in more than 420,000 federal workers being furloughed, an estimated 0.13 percent of economic quarterly growth lost per week and wasn’t ended until Trump ultimately agreed to sign a stopgap bill, funding the government through Feb. 15. Trump, however, still doesn’t have his wall, which he desperately wants. Despite many people — including some who voted for Trump — blaming him for the shutdown, Trump has threatened to either declare a national emergency or shut down the government once again if not given his desired wall funds.
While the Democratic Party should advocate for its political principles, it is important to remember that the well-being of the American people is the most important issue the party should focus on. Thus, avoiding a government shutdown should be a goal high on the agenda, as so many Americans’ livelihoods depend on an open and well-functioning federal government. Trump’s hardheadedness means that it is likely that he ultimately rejects anything the Democrats put forward.
However, the Democrats completely giving up on the negotiation process would not be ideal either. Both a shutdown and national emergency would cause chaos, and the adults in the room should at least try to do what they can to avoid either scenario. The sitting administration has taken such malevolent policy positions that means attempting to find middle ground would, in effect, turn the Democrats into co-conspirators in a marginally less objectionable crime. The optics of extending a hand across the aisle may prove politically advantageous for them going forward. While it seems unlikely that Trump would accept anything the Democrats sign off on, the party can still take the high road. To be clear, since it is the Republicans — not the Democrats — insisting their demands be met, Democrats are under no practical obligation to come to the table, though they certainly have the right to pursue such a tactic.
Going forward, Trump has placed himself in an extremely tight position in regards to the wall, leaving him little room for success or recovery. After Democrats and Republicans were able to compromise on a bill which allocated $1.3 billion to border security back in December, Trump initially said he would agree to sign it — but ultimately ended up reneging. It is also worth noting that in March 2018, Democrats were ready and willing to give the administration the full $25 billion it wants for the construction of a border wall in exchange for a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, but this was also turned down.
While polls show that 59 percent of Americans oppose the wall, Trump, out of fear of losing his core base of supporters, has been driven away from compromise and towards more extreme options. With Congress seemingly content to go on without funding for a wall in place, Trump’s two options appear to be another shutdown or declaring a state of national emergency — unfortunately for him, neither are very popular nor promising.
First, of course, Trump could do what he has already done and shut down the government. However, it’s unclear what exactly that would accomplish. This could prove politically perilous, as Trump bore most of the brunt for the last shutdown and the multitude of negative effects should not be compounded by taking such a disastrous course of action again. Secondly, Trump could declare a national emergency. However, that would be unpopular among Senate Republicans, a group who has previously, for the most part, stood behind him. In addition to being unpopular, declaring a national emergency could also be unconstitutional.
While the Supreme Court has a history of favoring executive power, Trump isn’t exactly strengthening his case for a national emergency by threatening to declare one if Congress doesn’t do his bidding. Emergencies are supposed to be declared when congressional approval would be too slow to handle an emerging crisis, so patiently waiting before declaring one runs contrary to the assertion that the matter at hand is an “emergency” at all. Since the recent government shutdown proved to be an exercise in futility, Trump ultimately does seem to be leaning towards the national emergency route.
As mentioned earlier, it seems unlikely that Trump would accept any deal the Democrats would propose. However, seeing as though he seems to be in a rather desperate position, it might make sense to re-propose a path to citizenship for DACA recipients in exchange for the $5.7 billion. If Democrats were, at one point, ready to fork over $25 billion for a DACA path to citizenship, then this deal would effectively save $19.3 billion that would have gone toward a project that Speaker Nancy Pelosi decried as “immoral” just last month.
We look toward Feb. 15 and hope for the best. Arriving at an equitable solution to this looming problem is an absolute necessity and the soul of our nation depends on it. We urge that our elected officials do their jobs and uphold their oath to do what’s best for their country and their constituencies.