Forget Trump wall, reopen government Editorial: Forget Trump wall, reopen government

The president resorts to scare tactics, and Congress should end the shutdown and embrace other border security efforts.
As seen from a window outside the Oval Office, President Donald Trump gives a prime-time address about border security Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
As seen from a window outside the Oval Office, President Donald Trump gives a prime-time address about border security Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Published Jan. 9, 2019

Thousands of illegal immigrants are not flooding across the U.S. southern border every day, a new wall will not stop the flow of illegal drugs and there is no security crisis. There is a manufactured crisis in Washington that has resulted in a partial government shutdown of nearly three weeks, and President Donald Trump and congressional leaders need to end this unproductive stand-off before the consequences become more serious. Both sides should compromise to reopen the government, make meaningful improvements to border security and refocus on issues far more pressing to most Americans.

Rather than digging out, Trump and congressional Democrats are still digging in. The president plans to travel to the border Thursday in a useless media stunt, which will follow Wednesday's unproductive negotiations. Meanwhile, some 800,000 federal employees are furloughed and many will miss a paycheck at the end of the week because of this political posturing. Federal contractors are not being paid, and the impact of the partial shutdown will spread deeper through the country if this showdown does not end soon.

Trump squandered his first national address from the Oval Office Tuesday night with his familiar scare tactics, exaggerations and misstatements. He warned of a "growing humanitarian and security crisis,'' but the apprehension of people crossing the southern border has significantly declined since its peak in 2000. He called the border "a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs,'' but virtually all of those drugs flow through legal points of entry. He claimed a border wall would be indirectly paid for by the slightly revised North American Free Trade Agreement, but that is a false claim as well.

As the president previously said himself, he owns this government shutdown. He backed away from a deal to keep the government fully operating after pushback from conservative commentators, and his insistence on spending $5.7 billion to start building an extended border wall in largely isolated areas appeals only to his political base. Democrats have just regained control of the House by winning 40 additional seats, a clear message that voters want change in Washington. There is no political or public policy reason for them to meet Trump's demand for an unnecessary border wall in return for reopening the government.

Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer should reach out to congressional Republicans to forge a compromise that would reopen the government and improve border security with enhanced technology and more Border Patrol agents. A fight over an extended border wall can wait for another day and another presidential campaign that already is under way. The legislative and executive branches are independent, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should not refuse to allow such a compromise to come to a vote. If Trump wants to veto a good-faith effort, let him veto it and suffer the consequences.

This is not just another battle of the Beltway in Washington. The length of the shutdown would set a record this weekend, and the impact only will grow. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are among those most affected. Transportation Security Administration workers at some airports are refusing to work without pay, funding has lapsed for Section 8 vouchers for subsidized housing, and federal parks and museums are without staff or closed. The federal district courts would run out of money next week, and there is no guarantee food stamps will continue to be issued if the shutdown continues indefinitely.

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Trump on Wednesday called his proposed wall "a medieval solution'' that works. There already are border walls in urban areas and other strategic locations, and Americans don't want medieval solutions to manufactured crises. They want the federal government to reopen, and they want the president and Congress to develop 21st century solutions to immigration reform and the nation's more pressing challenges.