Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Boxed in by 'the wall', Trump on verge of making an autocratic move

How the Border Wall Is Boxing Trump In. Here is just one instance in the NY Times report.

John F. Kelly, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, enraged Mr. Trump last year when he privately told a group of Democratic lawmakers that the president had not been “fully informed” when he proposed a border wall during his campaign, and had since “evolved” under Mr. Kelly’s tutelage. “The Wall is the Wall,” the president responded in an angry tweet contradicting his top aide.

Donald J. Trump
@realDonaldTrump
The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water…..
4:15 AM - Jan 18, 2018

"To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Mr. Kelly said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times last month as he prepared to leave the White House, adding that the administration had abandoned the idea of a “solid concrete wall early on.” His comments prompted another irate tweet from Mr. Trump. “An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED,” he wrote.

But then:

Donald J. Trump
@realDonaldTrump
An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!
5:51 AM - Dec 31, 2018

Mr. Trump himself has at other times said he is not necessarily wedded to a concrete wall but open to different forms of barriers at different points along the border, including steel slats. “I never said, ‘I’m going to build a concrete” wall, he said on Friday, rewriting history. “I said I’m going to build a wall.”

[Trump’s] advisers argue that Mr. Trump has more room to maneuver than he thinks, because his base would accept his word that some form of additional security along the border was the equivalent of a wall in terms of effectiveness.

“Listening to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter on this is a mistake,” [one advisor] said. “I don’t think the president’s base moves even one inch from him even if he doesn’t get a wall. They know where his heart is, they know where his mind is.”

The thing is, can anyone convince Trump of that? You see, “He’s very obsessed about carrying out his campaign promises”, that advisor wrote.

The wall “has sucked political capital from the pursuit of other, and arguably better, means to deter illegal immigrants,” wrote Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute.

Yet Mr. Trump has tethered himself to the wall and shows no sign of letting go.

There is a political calculation that looms large, larger than other considerations. If Trump gives up on a concrete wall and moves toward “border security”, that will be seen as admitting defeat. Here is some of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s analysis reported by The Hill: Trump giving up on border wall fight would be the ‘end of his presidency’.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) [last week] cautioned President Trump against giving in on his demand for funding for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, claiming that doing so would likely be “the end of his presidency.”

“He’s not going to sign a bill that doesn’t have money for the wall. I can tell you exactly how this is going to end. The president is going to challenge Democrats to compromise and if they continue to say no, they’re going to pay the price with the American people,“ Graham said during an appearance on Fox News’s ”Hannity."

“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president," he continued

Put in those terms, Trump is desperate. He appears posed to rule by decree in order to satisfy his obsession in order to save his presidency.

When it comes to the breaking the impasse between Trump and Pelosi over funding “the wall”, Judd Legum (popular.info) considers Trump’s Authoritarian Option. Following are excerpts.

Trump has two straightforward options: 1. Keep the government closed indefinitely, or 2. Drop his demand for wall funding and suffer a humiliating defeat to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Recently, Trump was leaning into the first option, telling Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that he was willing to keep the government closed for months or years. But that didn’t seem to have any impact on Pelosi or Schumer.

So now Trump is embracing a third option: declaring a state of emergency and ordering the military to construct the wall without legislative approval.

Yes, it would be a gross abuse of power and provoke a constitutional crisis. But it would also solve his current problem, and that’s usually enough for Trump.

“I may declare a national emergency dependent on what’s going to happen on the next few days,” Trump said outside the White House on Sunday. He indicated that he would let negotiations between White House staff and Congressional staff — a process being overseen by Vice President Pence — play out through the middle of next week.

After that, Trump said, a “national emergency” declaration was on the table. “We have to have border security. If we don’t have border security, we are going to be crime-ridden, and it’s going to get worse and worse.”

Trump’s lawyers are hard at work concocting a justification for unilaterally constructing the wall. It’s hard to know exactly what they will produce.

Trump says he may “declare” a national emergency, which he has the power to do under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. But that same law allows the House of Representatives to pass a resolution terminating Trump’s declaration immediately. Such a resolution would be referred to the Senate and is required to be reported out of committee within 15 days and voted on by the full chamber no longer than three days later.

The Senate is controlled by Republicans. But it’s far from certain that a majority of Republicans would be willing to affirm a national emergency declaration that subverts their legislative authority. Several Republican Senators have already called on Congress to open the government without funding the wall. All Republicans voted to fund the government without wall funding just a couple of weeks ago.

By declaring a national emergency to obtain blatantly political objectives, Trump would be testing the structures that make America a democracy and not an authoritarian regime. There is one man with the ability to stop him: Mitch McConnell.

McConnell says he opposes government shutdowns and promised they would end. “There will not be another government shutdown. You can count on that. Shutting down the government, in my view, is not conservative policy. I don’t think a two-week paid vacation for federal employees is conservative policy,” McConnell said in October 2013.

The Senate already voted unanimously to fund the government without border wall funding. It would likely do so again by overwhelming margins. McConnell can end the shutdown and avoid a Constitutional crisis.

Thus far, he’s decided to do nothing.

It’s hard to imagine the “national emergency” gambit resulting in a border wall. But it’s possible that Trump does not care. Issuing such a declaration would give Trump an excuse to end the shutdown while underscoring to Trump’s base that he is willing to do anything and everything to build the wall.

And that “anything and everything” includes breaking our democracy and, sooner or later, making every one of us pay for it. As Linda Lyon put it, “The costs incurred according to the center-right American Action Forum, include federal budgetary costs, forgone services, and economic disruption.”

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