Good news from congressional Republicans. The next month-plus-long government shutdown, tentatively scheduled to begin on Friday, is off. We're going to be a functional republic on paper, at least for a little while longer. Freude, schöner Götterfunken!
The only question is how. Speaking on Fox News last week, Rep. Chuck Fleischhmann (R-Tenn.), one of the members of the bipartisan group tasked with reaching some kind of legislative compromise on border security, said the interest in another shutdown among the GOP in the House is "nil, or next to nil." "In this situation," he added, "there is no appetite on either side of the aisle and I think in either chamber for another partial government shutdown." Fleischmann went on to suggest that the spending bill produced by the House will "maybe" include some kind of funding for a border fence.
If this is the case, Nancy Pelosi has already reneged on her promise of zero funding for the wall. Imagine that. But whatever a House-approved budget provides, it is unlikely to be anything near the $6-or-so billion requested by President Trump. Will he take the deal? If so, how will he go about selling this concession to his followers? In the game of chicken with Pelosi and the Democrats last month, he swerved first. If his State of the Union address last week told us anything, it is that looking ahead to 2020, Trump is interested in appealing to the sensibilities of voters in the middle of the country, both literally and figuratively — the same purple-state Midwestern moderates who secured his election in 2016. These are people who agree with him up to a point about border security and is even sold on the idea of some kind of wall — but not at the expense of interminable chaos in Washington. They might forgive him one or two shutdowns a year, but not two protracted ones in as many months. He is with his party in Congress on this one: no new shutdown.
What about serious immigration hawks, though? Here Trump is up against his own wall. Does he actually care about what people like Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter think of him? Yes. And he understands that there does exist a core group of voters who have come to see his presidency as something virtually synonymous with the wall and the reduction of immigration.
Fortunately, with the honorable exception of Coulter herself, most of these people are too enamored of Trump to hold him to his promises. If he spins his support for a compromise spending bill as a crucial first step or the unavoidable result of treachery by the Soros cabal in the Democratic Party or the realization of his dream for a more futuristic drone wall that is also an incredible savings to the American people, they will nod along like contented children. The wall thing is mostly a game of make-believe anyway. It will be good enough for them.
There is always the possibility, of course, that Trump will use his executive authority to secure funding for the wall by fiat. He has teased such a decision over and over again but somehow he never ends up doing it. He has almost certainly been advised about the legal challenges that such a declaration would involve: years of inconclusive wrangling in the courts; nonstop cry-baby talk from #Resistance types in both parties, especially the ones who have previously argued that the president's executive powers are virtually unlimited. (The Max Boot position is admirably clear: The White House can unilaterally order torture but not requisition some bricks and mortar from the Army Corps of Engineers.)
My best guess? I think that if Trump really had the stones to declare a national emergency he would have done it during the shutdown. For one reason or another he has decided that it is a bad move, both in itself and when it comes to advancing his agenda on immigration. So he will take whatever the Democrats give him, pretend that he was forced into this position because of his immense compassion for our hard-working federal employees, ordinary air travelers like you and me, Smokey the Bear, and so on.
Trump is going to wuss out.