The Senate-House conference committee working on border security funding is about to present Trump a bill with no money for a border wall. He’ll take it and be happy to have it.
The temporary funding deal reached to end Donald Trump’s shutdown in January runs out next Friday, providing a hard deadline for negotiations by the bipartisan conference committee. To prevent a repeat shutdown, it seems likely the committee will have to produce results no later than Wednesday, giving both the House and the Senate an opportunity to hold at least cursory debate on the legislation, hold votes, and slap the results on Trump’s desk. And then Trump will sign it—even though it’s dead certain the compromise bill will not meet the demands that Trump has leveled again and again.
For more than two months, Trump has been adamant: He wants $5.7 billion earmarked for the wall alone. Billions more for other aspects of “border security.” Not a penny less, or he’ll get out his itchy National Emergency finger.
But that’s not what’s emerging from the conference committee. In fact, the bill that surfaces for a vote this week is sounding very like the bill that Trump originally said he would support back in December, before conservative pundits made fun of him. That bill offered $1.6 billion for border security. Since then, Democrats have repeatedly passed a similar bill in the House, but which Mitch McConnell refused to bring to a vote in the Senate. Those bills offered between $1.3 and $1.6 billion in border security funding, which was explicitly split up among items that were aimed mostly at ports of entry, rather than building any kind of barrier.
As the conference committee gets close to wrapping up its proposal, it’s looking like the number will be … somewhere between $1.8 and $2.0 billion. Included in that number will be some funds that can be spent on “bollard fencing,” a kind of scaled down version of the “steel slats” that Trump has talked about in the past, and a type of fencing already in use near some points of entry. By dedicating some funds to bollard fencing, Republicans will be able to claim that they secured some “wall” or “barrier” or whatever they decide to call it. But it won’t be much. It certainly won’t be the 234 miles of wall that was supposed to be covered by over $5 billion from the Republican bill that was voted down in the Senate.
As Roll Call reports, the fact that the compromise bill contains any kind of barrier funding at all can be expected to lose Democrats some votes from legislators who have pledged not to support any such structures. However, it’s also expected that Democrats will retain enough votes—and secure enough Republican votes—to see the bill through.
Nancy Pelosi has already pledged to support the results coming from the conference committee, and with word leaking that the results are going to include some funding for barriers of any sort, some legislators are already grumbling about the outcome. However, the committee includes Progressive Caucus member Lucille Roybal-Allard and Hispanic Caucus member Henry Cuellar, suggesting that any bill is unlikely to contain more than a token gesture toward “a wall.”
According to the New York Times, Democrats on the committee are also worried about losing votes because the bill apparently doesn’t cut funding for ICE, which was a key concern for some legislators. However, if Democrats have agreed to approximately $2 billion in funding for border security, and for sustaining the previously allocated level of funds for related items, it seems likely that they got something in exchange.
That something is … unknown. The conference committee has been fairly air tight during its two weeks of negotiations, and the details of the bills it’s writing remain unclear. However, it does seem that one of the bills is specifically for disaster funding, so one of the things Democrats may have obtained is insurance that funding for disaster relief is allocated in a way that keeps it out of Trump’s hands, even if he should decide to declare a non-emergency emergency at some point.
What’s absolutely clear is that Republicans have absolutely no stomach for another shutdown at this point, and the previous shutdown burned up the bulk of Trump’s political capital on Capitol Hill. Republicans don’t want a shutdown. They don’t want an emergency declaration. They just want this over with. So, despite grumbling, it seems all but certain that they will sign on with anything that emerges from the committee. And so will Trump.
Then he’ll spend the next 12 months claiming he got his wall. So long as that wall is a lot shorter, a lot flimsier, and is really just short stretches of fence in areas where there already was fence.