Border security scorecard: Old-fashioned American compromise 1, Trump 0

There was something quaint, like an historical re-enactment, about the bipartisan compromise that resulted from negotiations between congressional Democrats and Republicans to head off another government shutdown.  

Americans pride themselves on compromise. The Connecticut Compromise at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 led to the Constitution. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 fended off the Civil War for nearly half a century and a decade respectively. Legislative compromise made possible the transformative civil rights legislation of the 1960s. But until this week, it seemed, compromise had fallen out of favor when it came to nationally divisive issues. 

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Well, old-fashioned compromise made a comeback with the border security legislation. It happened only because both sides in Congress gave ground on cherished positions.

Republicans agreed to $1.38 billion in border barrier funding — just one-fourth of the $5.7 billion that Trump had demanded and then shut down the government over.  Republicans also agreed that none of the modest funds in the proposed legislation can be used for a concrete wall. Give Republicans credit for breaking away from the Uncompromiser-in-Chief.    

For their part, Democrats agreed to do something that they said was immoral, namely, build barriers on the border, in this case, 55 miles of bollard fencing and levees in the Rio Grande Valley. They may have been talking about the immorality of a concrete wall, but it’s splitting hairs to argue that bollard fencing is moral but concrete walls are not. Give Democrats credit for breaking away from the demands of the immigration activists in their base.

Give President TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE no credit.  In fact, he was a big loser.

1. After two years in office, he has made only minimal progress toward fulfilling his defining campaign promise to build a “beautiful wall” from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. Including funds appropriated last year for a few dozen miles of new barrier and taking into account existing fencing and natural obstacles, the bipartisan legislation leaves Trump at least 900 miles short of a sea-to-sea barrier. Nine hundred miles is more than the distance from New York to Chicago. 

2. Trump looks both marginalized and inept.   He looks marginalized because serious people in Washington were doing serious business while he was down in El Paso falsely claiming that the city’s existing border barrier reduced crime, which both FBI statistics and the city’s Republican mayor refute. 

Trump looks inept because last year he rejected a bipartisan Senate agreement that would have provided more funds than the $1.38 billion in the bipartisan legislation. Not exactly the “Art of the Deal.”  True, he might claim a modest victory on the esoteric issue of detainee immigrant bed math, but the money shot here was the “wall.”

  1. Trump is badly boxed in by the bipartisan compromise. 

If he signs the border security legislation conservative provocateur Ann Coulter will impugn his courage for agreeing to what she calls a “Yellow New Deal.”  

If he vetoes the bipartisan legislation and shuts down the government again, he will need to build a wall around the White House.  

If he declares a national emergency, border funding goes to the courts for a lengthy delay, which could mean no wall to show his supporters in 2020, plus he alienates influential Republicans in Congress.  

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If he tries to appropriate funds for a wall by executive action from, as he put it, “far less important areas,” he likely will need congressional approval, which House Democrats won’t give him; and the “far less important areas” could include disaster relief and the military.   Imagine the political uproar if Trump cuts into the military budget to build one vanity project, his wall, but goes ahead with another one, a lavish military parade that he wants to hold in July.

Who knows, perhaps Congress will get to like compromise, Republicans will continue to ignore Trump, and some things might actually get done for the country. 

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.