A design of our Steel Slat Barrier which is totally effective while at the same time beautiful! pic.twitter.com/sGltXh0cu9
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 21, 2018
With President Donald Trump huffing that he would not sign any bill without $5 billion in taxpayer money for his vanity project involving steel slats, lawmakers failed to reach an agreement by the midnight deadline to avoid a partial government shutdown.
The shutdown impacts around 25 percent of the federal agencies that depend on Congress for funding (the other 75 percent has already passed).
Lawmakers scrambled to strike a deal last night but the writing was on the big, beautiful wall on Friday when the president told House Republicans that he would not sign any agreement that did not include his precious wall funding. In a turn of phrase that will no doubt join the great rhetorical flourishes of American political history, Trump began to refer to the wall as “steel slats.” The president added, “We are building artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it.” Yesterday, calling on the U.S. government’s full power of graphic design, the president released the image above.
Without the funding for the slats, Trump said, “there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time.” Less than two weeks ago, Trump said he would “proud to shut down the government” over the issue. And here we are.
This represents the third shutdown this year under unified GOP control of government.
The impasse comes after the White House initially signaled that the president would move ahead with a stopgap funding measure passed by the Senate on Wednesday evening. However, reportedly miffed by criticism that he was caving by Ann Coulter and other right-wing media personalities, Trump reversed course on Thursday and insisted on his $5 billion in wall funding. The House, still under GOP control until next month, dutifully passed such a measure, but it was DOA in the Senate. Republicans have a majority in that chamber but need to at least some Democrats to pass the bill; Republican leadership has declined the president’s suggestion to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster threshold over this issue.
It is perhaps worth stepping back and recalling that Trump’s signature campaign issue was a 30-foot-tall concrete wall stretching the length of the border that Mexico would pay for. Trump has abandoned this and it has become clear that this version of “the wall” will never happen. And Mexico is not paying for it; Trump is shutting down the government to force U.S. taxpayers to pay for it.
There are already 653 miles of barriers at the 2,000-mile Southern border. Trump wants to add more, including bollard barriers that were referred to up until now as “fencing” — but Trump prefers to call “steel slats.” Democratic leadership in the Senate has previously floated the offer of $1.6 billion in new funding for “fencing,” that would in practice be the same thing as Trump’s “steel slats.” Meanwhile, while Congress did not provide the $25 billion to build the wall that Trump once asked for, it did authorize some funding to improve existing barriers and add some new ones. The Trump administration already has around $1.7 billion in place for that purpose. Construction is well underway on renovating and replacing about 40 miles of existing walls and fences; construction has not yet begun for the $1.375 billion doled out by Congress in 2018.
The $5 billion that is currently under dispute could build an estimated 150 miles of new fencing — those steel bollards, whatever you want to call them — as well as another 65 miles of fencing that would replace less imposing current barriers. That’s according to the Department of Homeland Security; particularly given the legal complications with eminent domain of building in areas that currently do not have barriers, cost overruns are possible and the funding may not go as far as DHS predicts. Even if everything went to plan, that would still leave most of the border without barriers, and the Trump administration would be well short of the funding it would need to add the hundreds of miles of new barriers it hopes to, to say nothing of the 2,000-mile border wall once promised. Five billion isn’t the price tag for “the wall,” it’s just a round number.
It has become a line in the sand for Trump, nevertheless. He has already surrendered on his campaign promise. Democrats have backed funding for border security, including new and replacement fencing; Trump wants more funding for more new and replacement fencing. The impasse will break not when the flailing president gets his wall, but when he can find a way to claim victory, however implausibly.
In the mean time, he is trying to blame Democrats for the shutdown, claiming yesterday that “Democrats now own the shutdown!” However, just ten days ago, Trump himself publicly told Democratic leadership that he was “proud to shut down the government.”
“I will take the mantle,” he said. “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.” The Donald contains multitudes.
Among the departments and agencies that now could face impacts from a funding freeze: Homeland Security, Transportation, Justice, Commerce, State, Agriculture, Interior, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development, EPA, FDA and IRS. Some of the impacts, as reported in the New York Times:
• More than 420,000 people will work without pay, including nearly 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and 42,000 Coast Guard employees. As travelers flood the nation’s airports and train stations, 53,000 T.S.A. agents will keep working, as will air traffic controllers and aviation and railroad safety inspectors.
• Another 380,000 workers will be furloughed.
• The status of National Parks will be up in the air. Park staff would be furloughed, although the parks themselves would remain accessible. However, some parks, including the Grand Canyon, are planning to stay open.
That includes workers in Arkansas:
The government shutdown will affect 2,825 federal employees in Arkansas. https://t.co/yS8MOxP02t
— Greg Leding (@gregleding) December 22, 2018
Frank Lockwood in the D-G, meanwhile, offers some sympathy for the GOP Capitol Critters:
Members of the all-Republican Arkansas congressional delegation had hoped to be home by now, spending time with family members and preparing for the holidays.
Instead they’re stuck in Washington, trying to resolve another budget stalemate.
Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray issued the following statement:
We shouldn’t play politics with our border security. A federal government shut down makes our borders less secure. Our administrative process will grind to a halt, border patrol agents will go without pay, immigration judges will hear less cases, and an already back-logged system will become even more bogged down.
This shutdown will put a real hurt on all of us back home too, impacting things our families really care about like the Cache River, Felsenthal, and White River National Wildlife Refuges. Forget blame, let’s just solve this problem.
From the New York Times, more on the impact of the shutdown at the border:
Border Patrol agents are prepared to work without getting paid if the government shuts down Friday night, and agents are committed to conducting business as usual no matter what happens, but morale is sinking across the agency.
“It’s nerve-racking,” said Art Del Cueto, Vice President of the National Border Patrol Council, the estimated 18,000-member labor union for the Border Patrol. “It sucks, to be honest.”