How the shutdown has backfired on Trump and put an end to 'the wall'

The most important number in the shutdown fight is not the $5.7 billion in funding that President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE demands for border security.

Actually, there are two more important numbers, 100 and 1,000.

The $5.7 billion will only fund about 100 miles of new border barriers where none currently exist, mostly in South Texas. Yes, the damaging, painful, disruptive shutdown is only about 100 miles of new barriers. And that will be the most Trump ever gets because no one will want to go through this again.


Trump’s signature campaign promise was to build 1,000 miles of new “wall.” As he said in 2015, “As far as the wall is concerned we’re going to build a wall. We’re going to create a border. Here we actually need 1,000 [miles] because we have natural barriers.” And as he recently tweeted, “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived it.” 

Two years into his term, Trump hasn’t built even one mile of new barrier on the 1,954-mile border with Mexico.  Before the shutdown, Congress had appropriated funds for a few dozen miles of new barriers, but construction is only about to begin.  While some of the $5.7 billion is also earmarked for replacement barriers or secondary barriers behind existing ones, Trump promised his supporters a lot more than replacement barriers.  

What a price we are paying for Trump’s effort to get just one-tenth of the new barriers that he promised. The shutdown that Trump said he would be “proud” to own has:

  • partially stopped government operations for a record period of time (and still counting)
  • put 800,000 federal employees in financial stress and jeopardy
  • damaged the American economy
  • hurt consumer confidence
  • closed national parks and monuments
  • interfered with the FBI’s ability to investigate crimes such as terrorism and street gang violence
  • forced the cash-strapped federal courts to put some civil cases on hold 
  • forced airports to close terminals or security checkpoints because many unpaid TSA employees are not reporting for work, which raises safety concerns

The shutdown has also internationally embarrassed the United States.  

And that’s the point. Imagine what would happen if at the end of the year Trump again shuts down the government as leverage to get funds for another 100 miles of barrier. The American people could well explode in fury.  

Declaring a state of emergency might end the shutdown but it won’t get Trump his 1,000 miles of new barriers. What it will do is set a potentially troublesome precedent by using emergency powers to break a legislative impasse and tie up the wall funding in litigation, perhaps for years. Even if Trump successfully uses his emergency powers to appropriate $5.7 billion from the military budget, the result will still be only 100 miles of new barriers.  

And let’s throw into the mess the fact that Trump wants to build a barrier that may not work to meet a crisis that doesn’t exist. As the Government Accounting Office reported last year, no one really knows what the full “wall” will cost, how long it will take to build, and how effective it will be.


There is no immigrant invasion threatening the security of the United States (border apprehensions are down dramatically in the past 10 years). The State Department says there is no evidence that any terrorists have crossed the border. A wall won’t appreciably stop hard drugs from entering the United States.  

As the testimony in the New York City trial of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman shows, most hard drugs come through the official land border entry points and not across the unfenced part of the border.  

Trump cannot shut down the government or declare a national emergency every year for the rest of his presidency. So, while I don’t know how the shutdown will end, it’s a safe bet that the shutdown’s pain and suffering has already accomplished one thing. “The wall” that Donald Trump promised his supporters will never be built. 

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.