A Trump Border Wall-Funding Juggernaut?


A temporary victory?

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and their fellow Democrats, boasting that President Donald Trump caved in on the issue of funding a border wall, might be better advised to reflect on a historic battle before claiming victory.  The Korean War’s 1950  Battle of Chosin Reservoir, during which the U.S. First Marine Division was surrounded and outnumbered by Chinese forces 12-1, gave rise to two famous battlefield quotes, appropriately lending themselves to this stage of the border wall issue.  

The first is attributed to the division’s commanding general, Major General O.P. Smith; the other to his famous regimental commander, Colonel “Chesty” Puller—a legend and one of the Corps’ most highly decorated Marines. The encircled Marines fought their way out. While tactically a “retreat,” Smith famously qualified it with the words, “Retreat hell. We’re just attacking in another direction.” The Marines destroyed several Chinese divisions on their way out.  In calling an end to the shutdown, Trump may well just be looking at doing the same thing – i.e., “attacking in another direction.”

Meanwhile, Schumer smirks, “Hopefully now the president has learned his lesson.”  The Pelosi/Schumer reaction to the shutdown’s end makes clear what was most important to them: not U.S. national security nor federal workers not getting paid but, rather, party politics. What has been lost on the Democrats’ dynamic duo is Trump actually now is in a better position to get his wall funded.  The Democrats are enjoying, at best, a temporary victory. Trump has already informed them they have until February 15th to negotiate a funded border deal or he will take additional action.

Politics over taxpayers

Several options are available to him.  The Pelosi/Schumer smugness belies they have yet to get it. With Trump already having extended compromise offers, receiving an almost simultaneous Pelosi/Schumer rejection sans a counter-offer, the Democrats demonstrate a serious lack of good faith and concern over federal workers going unpaid and national security issues going unaddressed.  Additionally, several high profile Democrats are now voicing support, not for a fence, but a “border wall.”

Ironically, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the shutdown cost the government $11 billion – almost double the amount Trump requested. While most of that will be recovered, at least $3 billion is permanently lost -an amount that could have funded half the wall. At that rate, had the shutdown lasted another month, in terms of lost revenues, the Democrats’ failure to negotiate would have paid for the entire wall. 

But, for Pelosi and Schumer, it has always been party politics. Democrats may pat themselves on the back, but their stonewalling has cost them public opinion points. Post-shutdown polls show just 28% of respondents view Pelosi positively with 47% holding a negative view.  One could accept the Democrats’ refusal to fund the wall if it were a consistent party theme. But it never was. The fact many Democrats now opposing a wall proposed by Trump voted partially to fund pre-Trump speaks volumes about their motivation.  

Trump’s four options

Four options exist for Trump’s consideration as the February 15th deadline approaches.  

First, he could order another government shutdown. Obviously, this creates hardship again for 800,000 unpaid federal workers and will cost the government billions more dollars in losses. Interestingly, some Republican leaders are moving to block that from happening. 

Second, he could declare a national emergency. However, that would quickly trigger a lawsuit by Democrats to stop its enforcement. There is no telling how long it would take for such a lawsuit to run its course – with the ultimate decision being made by the U.S. Supreme Court. A factor in Trump’s favor, currently in play supporting such a national emergency declaration, is concerns over the three caravans heading towards our southern border, one estimated to be 12,000 strong. If this does not a national emergency make, nothing does. Yet, despite this approaching invasion (yes, Jim Acosta, they are invaders), Democrats naively want to know why Trump is still keeping active duty troops at the border.

Third, he could take action under the U.S. code based on rampant drug smuggling activity, without having to declare a national emergency. When requested by federal or state law enforcement responsible for countering such activity, the Secretaries of Defense and State can assist. The law specifically permits infrastructure construction “to block drug-smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States.” With the designation last year of several drug cartels as transnational crime organizations, this option would be supportable. 

Fourth, the greatest chance of success involves tapping into “unobligated balances”– described as “amounts of budget authority not yet committed by contract or other legally binding action by the government.”  With an estimated balance of $1.156 trillion today, this is an ideal option for Trump. All he need do to reallocate such unused federal funds for a border wall is to sign off on it. Running it through the Democrat Party-controlled House gauntlet, listening to Pelosi’s cries of immorality, is not required. Nor does it set a precedent as earlier presidents – both Democrat and Republican – have used it before. It effectively gives motion to a wall-funding juggernaut the Democrats simply could not stop. 

It is clear Pelosi and Schumer, rather than respond gracefully to Trump’s decision ending the shutdown, chose to exercise euphoric disdain, which brings us to the second famous battlefield quote. After his Marines at Chosin Reservoir were surrounded, “Chesty” Puller, armed with his own brand of optimistic logic, turned to his subordinates and said:

“Those poor bastards. They’ve got us right where we want them. We can fire in any direction now!”

 Similarly, Trump now has several different directions in which to press forward, with opposition slowly shifting in support of a wall.  As for Pelosi and Schumer, a smiling Trump may well be thinking,

“They’ve got us right where I want them.”