A chance for leadership in Congress

The shutdown ends, and Congress has three weeks to agree on a border security plan. Build consensus, not Trump’s wall.
President Donald Trump agreed to end the partial government shutdown Friday for three weeks while Congress negotiates border security legislation. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.
President Donald Trump agreed to end the partial government shutdown Friday for three weeks while Congress negotiates border security legislation. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.
Published January 25

The short-term agreement between President Donald Trump and congressional leaders to end the record government shutdown without money to build the president’s unnecessary wall should have come weeks ago. The president abruptly caved Friday only as the consequences of the shutdown ramped up and his opinion poll numbers rapidly declined. Now Congress should spend the next three weeks coming up with responsible, bipartisan legislation regarding border security.

Trump renewed his demand in the Rose Garden for a border wall and his threat to declare a national emergency to build it without congressional approval. He hinted at some rare flexibility, suggesting he isn’t demanding a continuous concrete wall and acknowledging the effectiveness of natural barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border such as the Rio Grande. But it is difficult to imagine a congressional conference committee could reach an agreement that would meet the president’s demands for a wall and satisfy his most fervent supporters -- who were already ripping him on social media Friday for agreeing to end the shutdown.

Instead, Republicans and Democrats should focus on areas where there is bipartisan support. That would include adding new surveillance technology, more border agents, and more resources to meet humanitarian needs. They should not engage in another stare-down over Trump’s push for $5.7 billion for an unnecessary border wall.

It is a safe bet that Trump will spend the next three weeks falling back on his familiar scare tactics and misstatements. Voters should remember that the apprehension of people crossing the southern border has significantly declined since its peak in 2000. Most of the illegal drugs that come across the southern border come through legal points of entry, not in areas where there is no fencing. And about 700 miles of the 2,000 mile border between the United States and Mexico have a wall or fence now.

Regardless of the president’s rhetoric or the details of legislation regarding border security, the nation cannot afford another lengthy government shutdown in three weeks. The strain on 800,000 government workers who have gone without paychecks for more than a month was fundamentally unfair. The strain on the nation that rippled through the households of millions of Americans was becoming untenable:

-- Federal officials restricted flights Friday at New York’s LaGuardia Airport because of a shortage of air traffic controllers, who have been working without pay. Unions representing air traffic controllers, pilots and flight attendants have warned that the shutdown created safety concerns.

-- The Internal Revenue Service’s work was disrupted as 14,000 IRS workers at tax processing and call centers did not show up this week. The result is more unanswered calls from taxpayers or longer waits for help, and IRS workers say they cannot afford child care and other expenses to keep working while they are unpaid, the Washington Post reported.

-- Hurricane preparedness has been jeopardized. The National Hurricane Center and FEMA canceled workshops for local governments, and contractors who update the hurricane center’s forecasting models were not working during the shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have an opportunity over the next three weeks to restore some measure of public confidence that Congress can function. Republicans and Democrats should craft border security legislation that focuses on areas where there is consensus. A secure border and a humane, smart immigration policy is in every American’s interest. Wasting billions on an unnecessary wall that is rooted in political posturing rather than sound public policy is not.