The impasse between President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE and Democrats in Congress boils down to one key question: When is a wall not a wall? The issue isn’t border security, as both parties support it, but the definition of the word “wall.”
Trump forced the ongoing government shutdown not over ideology but rather semantics. This is why the most useful document at the scheduled White House briefing on border security today between Trump and leaders of Congress would be an old hard copy of Roget’s Thesaurus.
Trump has his back up against, well, a literal wall. He promised his base something “big and beautiful” in the form of a “strong and powerful wall.” On New Year’s Eve, he tweeted, “Please explain to Democrats that there can NEVER be a replacement for a good old fashioned WALL!”
An “old fashioned wall?” repeat the Democrats, their eyes rolling. Isn’t that the problem with what we have now? Shouldn’t border security use updated modern technologies? Why must a barrier be called a wall, when walls won’t do? How can Democrats satisfy their own base if they concede to a tremendous Trumpian bulwark stretching from sea to shining sea?
Here is my solution. Democrats can end this government shutdown by giving Trump a high security “invisible” wall along the border. They should draft the Homeland Security Department appropriations bill to fund the concrete wish of the president, with some synonym strings attached.
They can call it a barricade, blockade, bulwark, or deterrent. Fence, fortification, embankment, or encumbrance. As long as he thinks it is a “good old fashioned wall.” The word “hurdle” might suffice. Impediment, limitation, moat, obstacle, obstruction, palisade, or parapet. It can even include some aesthetic steel slats, if that makes him feel better about it.
Trump must get his signing pen out in the Oval Office. He might get a partition, rampart, restriction, retainer, rail, restraint, roadblock, screen, or trench. It might include bricks here and mortar there. But “old fashioned,” as you tweeted, isn’t worth $5 billion, or $3 billion or even $1 billion.
Trump may not realize that the Homeland Security Department has a science and technology program that researches air based, ground based, and tunnel detection technical capabilities. It develops concepts involving radar, data solutions, wing surveillance, ground sensors, and more. Some of the capabilities raise privacy concerns. But surely they are more deserving of consideration than that “good old fashioned wall.”
It isn’t just about modern technologies. We need comprehensive and smart policies like the 2005 bipartisan immigration reform proposal introduced by the late senators John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities MORE and Ted Kennedy. Like all legislation, it was not perfect. Right now, however, functional will have to do. One of my former colleagues, Representative Gary Ackerman, used to say, “Show me a 20 foot high wall and I’ll show you a 22 foot ladder.”
Trump will call it whatever he wants. I suspect that much of his base will cheer it, no matter what it is. At this point, 3,000 miles of velvet drapery might do, just as long as it has the Trump seal of approval. As a former member of the House Appropriations Committee, I learned that legislative beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You just have to find the right words.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist whose latest book is “Big Guns.” You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.