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Democrats don't have to cave on the wall

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Douglas Cohn

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Monday, December 31, 2018

“Trump’s Wall” has become a cause célèbre, an issue so controversial that it has taken on a life of its own separate and apart from any reasonable discussion about it being a good idea or a bad idea, including what kind of wall to build, with what materials, for how much money, and for what expected benefit.

These things no longer matter because the issue has become so much larger than the underlying details. The real issue now — the cause célèbre — is whether or not Congress will appease a bully who believes his pulpit grants him more than the power of persuasion.

Trump has dug in his heels on the wall, shutting down a portion of the government and holding it hostage to his demands. In the end, he may resort to pulling funds out of the Pentagon to pay for his wall. If he could send 2,200 troops to the border to protect against a mythical invasion, he can find a way to send a wall to the border even if such a rationalization is an unconstitutional expenditure of funds only Congress can allocate.

The important point here is that the Democrats do not cave. Democrats must hold firm with their position of no money for “Trump’s Wall.” Were they to do otherwise, they would be feeding the president’s autocratic tendencies while undermining the purse-string prerogatives of Congress. This is tinder for a constitutional crisis.

When the Democrats take control of the House on Jan. 3, newly installed Speaker Nancy Pelosi will call for a vote on a bill similar to what the Senate unanimously passed before Trump backed down on his promise to sign it.

There is no reason for the Democrats to give in now, and lots of reasons for them to hold the line. They have the votes, they have the power, and eventually Trump will have to subvert or fold. Senate Republicans who are up for reelection in 2020 are not going to vote to sustain Trump’s veto of a bill to reopen the government. Starting his third year in office with a veto override would be an inauspicious beginning.

Once Democrats have stood up to Trump’s bullying and funded the government, they must offer a positive and realistic message on immigration. To counter Trump’s scare tactics, Democrats would do well to remind people that the majority of the people here illegally have over-stayed their visas.

People sneaking across the Mexican border is an outdated perception of what’s happening. Mothers with children are attempting the perilous journey through Mexico because the conditions in their home countries in Central America are worse than anything they imagine will happen to them if they show up at legal crossings and ask for asylum.

Instead of dedicating $5 billion for a border wall, as Trump proposes, spending that money on border security, immigration judges, and medical personnel would be a far more effective and humanitarian way to allocate funds.

The fact that a second child from Guatemala has died in U.S. custody at the border is a shame on all of us. At least it prompted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to say she would increase medical screenings at the border. Too bad it took a cause célèbre for her to do the right thing.

Too bad it is taking a cause célèbre to expose and confront a bully pulpit gone awry.

Washington Merry-Go-Round presents today’s events in historical perspective. Douglas Cohn is a columnist, speaker and author of political and historical nonfiction. Eleanor Clift is political reporter, author, a contributor to MSNBC and blogger for The Daily Beast.

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