The political ecosystem was particularly chaotic on Tuesday thanks to this tweet.
Sen. Chuck Schumer tells reporters at his on-cam presser that Democrats’ position is $1.6 billion for wall funding – far less than the $5 billion Trump wants – but he won’t say if Democrats are shutting the door on anything more, saying he’s not going to negotiate in public.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 27, 2018
There was no way Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) would agree to additional funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall (which Trump promised Mexico would pay for) right as the Democratic Party is about to retake control of the House, right?
In order to avoid a government shutdown, Congress and Trump need to agree on a government spending bill by December 7. Whether that bill will appropriate funding for Trump’s long-promised wall has become a sticking point.
Most of the progressive panic subsided after Schumer’s staff clarified that the senator’s comments were referring to border security more generally, and fencing rather than the concrete wall Trump wants $5 billion for.
But some questions remained as to why the leader of Senate Democrats would offer Republicans any money whatsoever for an already heavily-militarized border.
According to a video of the comments in question, the New York Democrat made it clear that he is passionate about border security, twice proclaiming, “We are for strong border security!” before bragging about how he has previously supported spending as much as $40 billion on it.
The differences between Trump’s and Schumer’s positions on how many billions of dollars to spend on border security — and whether that money goes toward a “wall” or “fencing” — are important distinctions for a variety of reasons, including serious ethical, environmental, and economic concerns.
Schumer’s staff re-iterated to ThinkProgress on Wednesday that the $1.6 billion offer for fencing — not Trump’s desired concrete wall — is an amount that has been supported by experts and several Republicans.
The Senate Minority Leader’s staff also said that supporting a continuing resolution would keep funding at the same level as last year when Trump’s administration still hasn’t touched any of that money allocated for border security.
But considering that the most unpopular president in modern history’s handling of immigration is widely opposed, why are Democrats making any offers that could potentially fund Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda?
Funding a wall doesn’t make a lot of political sense
Much of that concern may been driven by conservative fear–mongering over the migrant caravan, which in reality, is made up of people attempting to escape violence, natural disasters, and brutal authoritarian crackdowns to legally claim asylum in the United States.
But it’s also clear that most Americans side with Democrats when it comes to immigration.
An August poll from Quinnipiac gave Democrats a 10-point edge over Republicans on the the handling of the issue.
An all-time high of 75 percent of Americans, including 65 percent of conservatives, backed immigration in a June Gallup poll. The same Gallup poll also found record-low support for restricting the rate of immigration.
Trump’s low approval ratings closely mirror the low levels of support for his proposed border wall and immigration agenda.
As historian and Twitter superstar Kevin M. Kruse pointed out, the congressional districts that would potentially be impacted by Trump’s border wall sure seem to favor Democrats.
If you traced a line down the entire West Coast from Canada to Mexico, and then went across the entire southern border from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, you'd cross through about three dozen House districts.
Only two — WA-03 and TX-23 — voted Republican this year.
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) November 18, 2018
Even the citizens of Texas, who haven’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, oppose a border wall like the president’s proposal by nearly 30 percentage points.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently declared she won’t negotiate with the president over his “manhood issue” border wall.
But Schumer has offered Trump billions of dollars for his proposed border wall multiple times.
A history of deal-making with Trump
Schumer agreed to a deal to avert a shutdown in January because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave him his word on a future vote over a bill to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives certain undocumented youth temporary work authorization and deportation relief. Of course, McConnell didn’t follow through on the agreement.
In February, Schumer supported the failed “Common Sense Coalition” proposal that would have appropriated $25 billion for border security. That funding would have included construction of the president’s proposed wall at the Mexican border over “a 10-year period,” according to the New York Times, and limited family reunification in return for providing a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
Schumer has also made other pointless deals with Republicans, most notably agreeing to clear the way for the lifetime confirmations of dozens of Trump judicial nominees.
In the Senate, Schumer has backed Trump over a quarter of the time. The Democratic leader’s 25.3 percent rate of supporting Trump’s agenda puts him near the middle of Senate Democrats, and is more than double the rates of Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Schumer has criticized fellow congressional Democrats while joining conservative calls for more “civility” in politics, enabled the rollback of Dodd-Frank financial regulations put in place after the Great Recession, publicly heaped praise on McConnell, credited the president for moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, reportedly tried to shut down potential congressional regulation of Facebook — where his daughter is employed — and voted for many Trump nominees, including Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, CIA director Mike Pompeo, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, and FBI director Christopher Wray, before being re-elected as Senate Minority Leader shortly after the midterms.
We don’t need any additional border security
As Jorge Ramos noted, funding for Trump’s supposed wall “would be used to add about 350 miles of fencing to an existing 654-mile border wall; even if the project were completed, about 1,000 miles along the border would still have no physical barrier.”
Beefing up border security even short of building a physical wall doesn’t make much sense from a policy perspective.
Perhaps the best illustration of existing security at the U.S.-Mexico border is this interactive map from USA Today, which displays that over a third of the roughly 3,000-mile border between the two nations already contains fencing or similar barriers.
The number of U.S. government employees patrolling the border has skyrocketed in recent years.
In addition, border-crossing attempts are at a historic low. The roughly 300,000 apprehensions made by border patrol last year were the lowest recorded level since 1971. The number of apprehensions has been in steady decline since reaching around 1.7 million in 2000. (Apprehensions are used to assess overall attempted crossings.)
Numerous studies have shown that increased border enforcement — like walls — are not a deterrent to crossings. Other harsh tactics from the Trump administration have not reduced attempted crossings, either. The number of border arrests reached its highest levels under Trump last month, after his administration had started separating detained families and locking up children.