From the campaign trail, to Twitter, to the Oval Office, and now to Congress, the border wall with Mexico is still a trending topic. Funding its construction, though, seems to become more of a dim dream, as the Mexican government dismissed President Trump’s insistence that they pay for the wall and there was no funding for the wall in the continuing budget resolution that the Congress passed in April this year. Even in the administration’s recent budget submission, Homeland Security’s request for $1.6 billion to begin the construction in 2017 doesn’t come close to the estimated $21 billion that will be needed to complete the project by 2020.
Now, though, two congressmen, Mark Meadows (R-N.C) and Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), are threatening a government shut down if the Congress fails to include money in the 2018 budget for the wall. (If fully funded by the U.S., Trump’s “beautiful wall” would cost around $84 per taxpayer, assuming the approximate 250 million people over 18 living in the U.S. pay federal taxes. This from the one-time party of fiscal responsibility.)
The wall is not only a terrible idea; it’s a terrible investment. For one, the principal source of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is overstayed visas, not—as Trump and his supporters want to have everyone believe—people slipping surreptitiously in the dark of night across an unguarded border. The other reason often cited for building the wall is to halt the flow of drugs and terrorists across the U.S. southern border. But even that doesn’t hold up. Cartels have proven to be more and more clever and flexible in how they ship their product—through tunnels, submarines, catapults, trucks, Chapo logistics, you name it… a wall won’t stop them. And then, of course, not one single terrorist has entered the country from the U.S.-Mexico border, making the wall an answer to a problem that doesn’t exist.
It’s for this reason that representatives—even Republicans like Texas congressman Will Hurd—along the border who really live with and understand the problem don’t support the idea.
The idea isn’t popular either. As of April 2017, 64 percent of American voters oppose building the wall. The opposition is now reflected on both sides of Congress, which is why the idea of U.S. funding of the wall is quietly—for the most part—being swept under the rug, and the bidding process to select the prototype and construct the wall has been so chaotic. According to a recent report, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has narrowed the bids down to a couple of finalists, but all are unsure if the project will start this year. Trump even pitched the idea of solar panels to cover for construction and maintenance costs through generated electricity; but according to one source the cost of cleaning those panels would exceed the revenue they would generate for electrical grids. And on his way to a state visit to France, Trump mentioned the wall would actually only need to cover around 700 to 900 miles of the border as there are natural barriers along the way (that’s what we’ve been saying all along, but OK!). According to Trump, this shortened wall would also have to be transparent to watch out for drug sacks thrown over from the other side (uhmmm…see why the wall just doesn’t work?)
But none of this has stopped a handful of die-hard, wall-supporting congressmen (and yes, men) from threatening to hold the government hostage to an expensive, impractical, impolitic, and unpopular idea. Twice this year, the administration and several representatives have threatened to shut down the entire U.S. government because the Congress refuses to secure funds to realize Trump’s promise. The first one came in April over a continuing resolution to fund government operations through September. At that time, the president demanded Congress include funding for the border wall.
This time, Congressman Mo Brooks— a conservative Republican from Alabama’s 5th Congressional District and now a candidate for the U.S. Senate vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions—threatened, if elected, to shutter the government if congress didn’t provide enough money to fully fund the wall. During the Youtube announcement of his Senate campaign, he promised to filibuster any spending bill that didn’t include support for the wall by reading the King James Bible in its entirety. (Congressman Brooks may want to read it closely himself first. Ephesians 2:14 talks about breaking down middle walls of partition; it would be nice to hear that on the Senate floor.)
If the next spending bill does not include enough money to fund the wall, representatives such as Brooks and Meadows will make sure negotiations are delayed, risking another shutdown as the one entered in 2013 tied to Obamacare. But although the shutdown seems productive to Trump’s following lawmakers, day-to-day operations would be hobbled over a campaign pledge.
If the government were to shut down over the wall, Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress would bear the blame for suspending federal business-as-usual—on everything from access to national parks to the issuance of passports to non-essential social services—for a deeply unpopular proposal. And that doesn’t include the effects on external relations though reduced diplomatic staffs and economic loss from tourism, travel and fees collected from federal services.
A government shutdown could also drive another Trump campaign promise further away from completion: renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. Two months ago, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress President Trump’s intention to renegotiate NAFTA after August 16, 2017. If a shutdown occurs around September-October, with negotiations just starting, the timing and tone of the conversations would suffer. Could we really expect Mexico to make meaningful concessions to U.S. demands for fairer trade when the U.S. government has shut down just to build a wall to seal off the border between the two countries?
While the debate in the U.S. on immigration has taken an ugly turn—from which it may never recover—the moment of truth over one of the most offensive, expensive (and unpopular) manifestations of that turn is at a critical point. Will Trump and his acolytes in Congress really be willing to buck both bipartisan consensus and the complete fiscal and diplomatic logic of the “beautiful” wall and shut down the entire U.S. government to get it? Stay tuned.