The Democratic left says no wall. The Republican right says a wall is a must. In the middle are the parties’ leaders, hamstrung and dazed.
That was clear Tuesday as President Donald Trump clashed with Democratic congressional leaders in an extraordinary meeting that all acknowledged spiraled out of control. But they all knew that the two parties’ bases have become roadblocks to getting the issue resolved.
Trump appeared to be attempting to break the stalemate Tuesday morning in a series of pointed tweets calling on Congress to fund his border wall. The frustration carried over into the Oval Office meeting with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to be House speaker in January, where Trump demanded $5 billion for the wall and threatened to shut down the government over the dispute.
The impasse shows no sign of cracking as leaders on both sides have struggled to find a solution that their own parties can agree on.
Pelosi, who is not guaranteed to win election to speaker, can’t afford to upset members on the left who say they not will not accept any kind of border wall, even in exchange for protections from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
“The way it was presented is if she agreed to $5 billion of wall funding in exchange for citizenship for Dreamers, they would protest her,” said a person close to the negotiations about demands from the left.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told McClatchy he had spoken to Trump this week about government funding and the border wall.
Graham has been pushing Trump for nearly two years now to strike a deal with Democrats to protect the so-called Dreamers. He said the president should offer these protections in exchange for money for his border wall.
“I just think it’s hard for (Democrats) to give (wall money) to (Trump) without getting something” like DACA, Graham said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act that created the Dreamers class. “He seems to think it was a good idea, but we’ll see.”
But Democrats say they can’t trust Trump, who they say has broken agreements they’ve made in the past that would have funded the wall in exchange for protections.
“I’ve been here with eight presidents,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said. “The other seven when they agree to something and give their word they keep their word.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinios, said Pelosi and Schumer can only hope that Trump will soon have someone by his side who knows the intricacies of Congress.
“So we’ve got to bring him into the world of congressional reality and sometimes I wonder if he has anyone around him who could do that,” Durbin said.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, a senior GOP appropriator, pitched pairing border security money with some other immigration priority like DACA protections:
“I think that’s clearly an expectation that people can and do reasonably have of their government,” he said. “More than 40 democrats in the Senate have voted for $25 billion of authorization and prior appropriated, I think that’s how that bill read, for border security for fencing and walls, and now all the sudden these issues can’t even be associated.”
Trump, Pelosi and Schumer hoped to come to agreement on border funding to avert a government shutdown. But the mood quickly shifted with the leaders interrupting each other, Pelosi charging Trump with misleading the American people and Schumer and Trump arguing over the consequences of elections.
“Unfortunately, this has spiraled downward,” Pelosi said.
RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Trump has been forced to respond to a Democratic party that has “lurched so far left” that some members are suggesting to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“If Trump is playing hardball now, it is a logical reaction to increasingly irrational positions by the left that the American people reject.”
But Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which has pressed the administration on enforcement policies, said lack of unity among Republicans on the issue has weakened their leverage to push for enforcement policies instead of guess worker programs that help employers.
“This is at odds with the president’s agenda,” Vaughn said. “It’s not addressing what supporters of the president and it’s fair to say most Republicans want their members to do right now.”
Emma Dumain and Bryan Lowry contributed.