The Donalds Dossier: No rescue for Americans, defending the filibuster and fixating on the border

Rep. Byron Donalds calls for removing Capitol barriers and rebuilding them on the border. (Image: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

92 days Rep. Byron Donalds has been in office

582 days until Election Day 2022

April 5, 2021 by David Silverberg

Having tried and failed to stop President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan from assisting Americans to recover from the pandemic and receive vaccines, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has now turned his fire against the American Jobs Plan intended to restore America’s infrastructure.

Additionally, in the past month Donalds attempted to play the race card against Biden’s opposition to Georgia’s voter suppression law and defended the Senate filibuster. Along with the rest of the Republican caucus in Congress, he tried to politically exploit the immigration influx at the southern border and opposed a bipartisan solution to farm labor needs and the agricultural workforce.

All of these activities were rhetorical; legislatively, Donalds proposed a widely ignored alternative to the American Rescue Plan. His proposal to protect Southwest Florida from interruptions in harmful algal bloom monitoring remains in committee.

In terms of serving his district, Donalds held a series of photo opportunities to prove that he has not forgotten Southwest Florida. However, he held no town halls or public events allowing constituents unrestricted access or unfiltered questions of his policies or positions. His media appearances were only with right-wing media outlets where he did not face skeptical or challenging questions.

Opposing rescue and jobs

In some rare and remarkable reporting covering local governance, yesterday, April 4, five reporters from the Naples Daily News published details of the benefits that Southwest Florida cities and counties will receive from the American Rescue Plan—and they are significant.

The article, “American Rescue Plan to bring more than $300M to Southwest Florida,” investigated the amounts that local jurisdictions will be receiving and their internal debates on how to use it.

Whatever the outcome of the debates at the county and municipal level on how to spend the money, it is clear that the dollars will significantly assist Southwest Florida in its efforts to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Donalds vociferously fought passage of the American Rescue Plan, which passed the House twice and the Senate and was signed into law on March 11.

With implementation of the American Rescue Plan under way, Donalds, along with the rest of the Republican Party, turned his fire against Biden’s effort to restore and improve American infrastructure, fight climate change and provide American jobs. They focused on the Made in America Tax Plan, decrying its proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent and make the ultra-wealthy pay a fair share of taxes.

“Biden is BAD for business,” Donalds tweeted on April 2. “Under this Admin, the incentive of corporations to do business in America has diminished greatly as a result of Biden’s anti-economic growth agenda. Raising the corporate tax is just another America last policy being adopted by the Biden Admin.” (Editor’s note: that tweet should be read “America-last” as opposed to Trump’s “America First,” slogan, which Donalds supports.)

He also complained that the American Jobs Plan was the Green New Deal in disguise and would provide only 5 percent of its funding for roads, highways and bridges, work against the coal and natural gas industries (in favor of solar, wind and renewable energy sources) and end anti-union “right to work” laws.

And in an unintentional bit of irony, on March 29 Donalds marked Vietnam Veterans Day by tweeting “Florida is home to the second-largest number of Vietnam War veterans in the nation, many of whom live in SW Florida. Today and every day, we offer our immense gratitude & appreciation for their selfless service to our nation.”

The American Jobs Plan, which he is so loudly denouncing, provides $18 billion for upgrades and modernization to Veterans Administration facilities like those in Southwest Florida.

Defending the filibuster and voter suppression

The US House of Representatives and the US Senate operate as separate and distinct institutions by design; in fact, Thomas Jefferson wanted each to operate as though the other didn’t exist. Members of the House are prohibited by House rules from referring to the Senate by name in their debates and speeches; they can only refer to “the other chamber” and the same goes for senators. This is to reduce institutional friction and maintain institutional independence.

That’s why it was surprising to see Donalds defending the Senate filibuster. It’s a practice peculiar to the Senate; the House has nothing like it.

Donalds’ defense of the Senate filibuster came in the context of his defense of Georgia’s voter suppression law, which has otherwise been blasted across the country as a deliberate attempt to dampen voting by communities of color and reduce democratic participation. He called Democratic condemnation of the law “race baiting” and was moved to issue a distinct statement expressing his sense of outrage that Biden had called the Georgia law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity.”

(Fun fact: The longest continuous filibuster in Senate history was conducted by Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (at the time a “Dixiecrat” Democrat but later a Republican), who in 1957 spoke continuously for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to stop a civil rights bill guaranteeing Black voting rights.)

Biden, stated Donalds, was “irresponsibly injecting race and the travesty of Jim Crow to oppose the filibuster. Time after time, Democrats resort to the race card to shield them from having to answer for their hypocrisy and radical policies.” Considering that Biden had in the past opposed school busing along with southern segregationists, “that dark stain on our Republic is personal to me and many Black Americans like me.”

The For the People Act (House Resolution (HR) 1) is designed to combat voter suppression and ensure that elections remain open and accessible to all voters.

Donalds denounced it on the House floor and called it “the radical takeover of our elections.”

“Abolishing voter ID laws, ending signature verification, and putting into place taxpayer-funded campaigns is detrimental to every American’s right to a free and fair election and the harmful rhetoric of President Biden cannot evade this fact,” Donalds argued in his statement.

The For the People Act passed the House on March 3 despite Donalds’ “no” vote and is now in the Senate where it faces a Republican filibuster.

Immigration and the southern border

With little else to criticize and Biden actions to date proving overwhelmingly popular, Republicans have seized on the migrant influx at the southern US border as a point of attack. However, without Donald Trump whipping up a frenzy of fear and loathing of foreigners, Republican attacks have lacked the certain je ne sais quoi that Trump provided. By regarding migrants and refugees as human beings seeking safety and refuge rather than subhumans bent on rape and pillage, Biden is taking heat out of the Trumpist fire.

Donalds sought to remedy that. In keeping with the rest of the Republican caucus for the past two weeks he was fixated on the southern border.

“Instead of traveling back home to Delaware, Biden should head to our Southern Border immediately,” he tweeted on March 16. “Since taking office, illegal migrants, drug smugglers, & human traffickers have had their sights set on entering our country and Biden has given them the key. Secure our border, now.”

Donalds also posted a video of himself walking beside the temporary barriers protecting the US Capitol two days before they were scheduled to come down anyway and called for them to be dismantled and erected instead along the southern US border.

“…The Democrats actually do love walls, and they do love fencing—to protect them. But when it comes to our border, they don’t want any protection. Let’s take down these walls in D.C. and relocate them to our Southern Border,” he said in the March 19 video as he walked along the barrier.

The 19th Congressional District is not on the US territorial border and for most Southwest Floridians the only signs of the migrant influx are landscape workers mowing their lawns, replacing their roofs and agricultural laborers making their full dinner tables possible.

In another unintentional irony, when a bipartisan solution to the problem of undocumented seasonal agricultural workers—who are badly needed by local farm owners and growers—came before the House, Donalds voted against it.

And in a less amusing irony, the barriers were indeed removed. Then, last Friday, April 2, Capitol Police Officer William Evans was killed when Noah Green attacked him and another officer by driving his car into them—while they were protecting the Capitol.

Donalds of course issued an appropriate tribute.

Commentary: Past and prologue

Not all of Donalds’ initiatives in the last two weeks were negative. On March 17 he introduced his second piece of legislation, the Responsible and Effective Spending Cuts of Undesirable Expenditures (RESCUE) Act of 2021 (HR 1955), which is his answer to Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

Technically, the purpose of HR 1955 is “to temporarily modify the application of the sequester under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010.”

That’s an interesting concept since there were complaints about pay-as-you-go budgeting and sequestration since the idea was introduced over 10 years ago. However, Donalds never submitted any text for the bill and it remains nothing more than a name and a number. An observer could be forgiven for concluding that this was not a serious piece of legislation but a bit of anti-Biden showboating.

Donalds has also been at pains to show that he is aware of his district. He and some of his staff took an airboat tour of the Everglades (which is actually outside the District boundaries), he and his family visited the Naples Botanical Garden (whose expansion was made possible by a generous donation from his predecessor, Francis Rooney), and he toured the Collier County Mosquito Control District headquarters, so he is cognizant of the local mosquitos.

Actually, for all this rhetorical sparring, this period has been something of a lull legislatively. Much of the initial heavy legislative lifting has already been done, with Donalds voting entirely against it.

But everyone should rest up: next up Biden will submit a new social program plan, the American Families Plan, and will submit his proposed budget for fiscal year 2022. That budget will feature implementation of the American Jobs Plan and corporate tax hikes to pay for it.

Donalds sits on the House Budget Committee, so this will be a chance for him to shine, as the Republican leadership and his PAC backers intended. No doubt he will have much to say, all of it negative. If past is prologue, he will be shallowly ideological, follow the party line and provide cover against any charges of Republican bias or prejudice. The 19th Congressional District will not play a large role in this.

The problem for Southwest Florida is that Donalds’ rigid right-wing orthodoxy and total rejection of relief, rebuilding and renewal will ensure that the region becomes an underfunded backwater while the rest of the nation moves forward to defeat the pandemic, boost employment and strengthen its infrastructure.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Analysis: Trump’s border shutdown will mean pain in the pocketbook for SWFL

04-03-19 surprised-grocery-shopping-woman

April 3, 2019 by David Silverberg

The big, immediate headline after President Donald Trump threatened to close the US border with Mexico was that the American avocado supply would dry up in three weeks.

That would certainly hit Southwest Florida, even though the state is a major avocado producer. Still, although an avocado shortage would hurt a lot of local restaurant menus, most Southwest Floridians could live a few weeks without guacamole.

But more seriously, the local impact of a border shutdown would depend on its extent and its duration.

For consumers, it would immediately be felt most keenly in the grocery shopping cart, later at the gas pump and possibly in a recession.

The closing

Trump announced the possible border closing during his visit to Lake Okeechobee on Friday, March 29, managing to divert national media attention from his supposedly great efforts on behalf of the Hoover Dike and the Everglades.

Since the offhand announcement, the administration, facing an uproar over its implications, has clarified that it would not apply to truck traffic (which is also one of the major means of drug smuggling into the United States).

Precise details of the closing remain sparse because the possible closing was hardly a carefully considered or vetted policy. Its nature and extent continue to rest on the whims and moods of Donald Trump. On Tuesday he reiterated his threat. “If they don’t stop them [migrants], we are closing the border. We’ll close it. And we’ll keep it closed for a long time. I’m not playing games,” Trump said.

Having lost the battle of the US government shutdown, it seems he’s seeking to shut down something new.

This prompted a rare dissent from even so staunch a Trump enabler as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader. “Closing down the border would have potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country,” said McConnell on Tuesday. “I would hope we would not be doing that sort of thing.”

Even conservative economist Arthur Laffer, inventor of the “Laffer curve” during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, said that a border shutdown “will hurt us a lot.” US-Mexican trade is “a win-win game on trade,” he said during an interview on Fox News.

Pain in the produce aisle

Mexico is currently the US’ third largest goods trading partner, according to the US Trade Representative. As of 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available, US and Mexican two-way goods trade totaled $557.6 billion. Goods exports totaled $243.3 billion; goods imports totaled $314.3 billion. The U.S. goods trade deficit with Mexico was $71 billion in 2017.

The primary goods imported from Mexico were vehicles, electrical machinery and machinery, optical and medical instruments and mineral fuels like oil.

Since Southwest Florida is not a center of commerce or immigration and has no cross-border transportation, a border shutdown would not initially be felt by businesses here.

But a border shutdown would be felt by every American consumer and Southwest Floridians are no exception. Costs would rise exponentially, particularly for foodstuffs.

Mexico is the largest supplier of agricultural imports to the United States. In 2017 that trade totaled $25 billion. Leading categories included fresh fruit ($6 billion), fresh vegetables ($5.5 billion), wine and beer ($3.3 billion), snack foods ($2.1 billion), and processed fruit and vegetables ($1.5 billion).

Suddenly, these goods would become scarcer and prices would rise for all foods, even those produced in Southwest Florida like tomatoes and strawberries. Southwest Floridians would be facing substantially higher food bills.

Pain at the pump

A border shutdown would have big implications for oil and gas, both for consumers and for Southwest Florida itself.

There would be substantial pain at the pump. The US imported $11 billion in mineral fuels from Mexico in 2017. A US-Mexico border closing, coming on top of sanctions placed on Venezuelan oil would drive up gas prices even further than the significant increases felt over the past month. Southwest Floridians would know that there’s a border shutdown every time they filled the gas tank.

But then, with oil prices rising, exploring, exploiting and extracting Florida’s oil, both in the Everglades and offshore, would become much more attractive and urgent to oil companies. The combination of oil industry profit-seeking and the Trump administration’s environmental indifference would nearly guarantee drilling off Southwest Florida’s coast and in the Everglades, although that would take several years to implement.

Southwest Florida would feel a double whammy from a border shutdown: both high gasoline prices in the short term and a degraded environment in the long term.

Pain in the pocketbook

As stated at the outset, the full impact of a Mexico border shutdown would depend on its extent and duration. The longer the shutdown, the greater the pain and expense and the deeper the effects would be.

What can be stated with certainty is that Trump is systematically impoverishing the United States just as he bankrupted his gambling casinos. The US national debt has now ballooned 77 percent in the first four months of fiscal year 2019 to $310 billion, up from $176 billion the previous year. Under Trump the trade deficit has reached over $100 billion, going from $502 billion in 2016 to $621 billion in 2018, an increase of 19 percent. Particularly hard hit is the once healthy and thriving US agriculture sector, with previously prosperous farmers now having to rely on government aid due to an unnecessary trade war with China.

A border shutdown would deliver a blow to the economy as a whole and consumers across the nation and would be particularly painful in Southwest Florida with its population of retirees, seniors and people on fixed incomes who would have difficulty coping with skyrocketing food and gas costs.

Even the threat of a shutdown is proving disruptive and disturbing to commerce and consumers.

The conclusion is clear: an unnecessary and absurd border shutdown is no way to make America great “again.”

Liberty lives in light

To read more about the impact of Trump trade policy on Mexican beer imports, see: “Farewell, my little Coronitas!”

©2019 by David Silverberg

 

US House fails to override Trump veto; Rooney bucks GOP, Diaz-Balart sticks with party line

01-13-19 us capitol cropped

March 26, 2019 by David Silverberg

Updated 10:20 pm with vote link and Diaz-Balart vote.

Today, March 26, the US House of Representatives failed to override President Donald Trump’s veto of House Joint Resolution 46, which would have terminated his declaration of a national emergency on the southern US border. The vote was 248 to 181, short of the two-thirds needed to override the veto.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) stuck to his previous position against the national emergency and voted to override the veto.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted to sustain the veto.

In his statement announcing his vote, Rooney declared: “My vote to override a veto of the resolution to rescind the national emergency declaration was based on the US Constitution and had nothing to do with President Trump.”

He continued: “My vote was based on the rule of law and the Constitutional separation of powers. Although it is true that there have been over 60 national emergency declarations since 1976, no previous declaration was in direct contrast to a vote of Congress and none dealt with appropriation and allocation of money – which is the sole responsibility of the Congressional branch.”

Rooney further stated: “I care deeply about securing our border and have both cosponsored and voted in favor of multiple bills to accomplish this and provide fixes to our broken immigration and visa systems. We need to secure our southern border and control who enters and leaves. This can be accomplished with the right combination of defensive barriers including walls and fences, surveillance technology, and vigorous enforcement of our laws.”

Diaz-Balart did not issue a statement explaining his vote.

The other 12 Republicans who voted against the declaration on its first passage on Feb. 26 did so again and were joined this time by a 14th, Rep. John Katko (R-24-NY), who had been absent from the first vote.

In a statement following the vote, the bill’s original sponsor, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-20-Texas) and Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) issued a joint statement: “Both chambers of Congress – a Democratic House and a Republican Senate – resoundingly rejected the President’s sham emergency declaration by passing HJRes.46.  This will provide significant evidence for the courts as they review lawsuits.  The President’s lawless emergency declaration clearly violates the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, and Congress will work through the appropriations and defense authorization processes to terminate this dangerous action and restore our constitutional system of balance of powers.

“In six months, the Congress will have another opportunity to put a stop to this President’s wrongdoing.  We will continue to review all options to protect our Constitution and our democracy from the President’s assault.”

With the House failing to override the veto the Senate is unlikely to vote on the matter since both chambers must be in agreement. However, as of this writing, no formal Senate announcement had been made.

Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Silverberg

BREAKING NEWS: Senate votes against Trump ’emergency;’ Rubio, Scott split

02-27-19 The_Capitol_at_Dawn

March 14, 2019 by David Silverberg

Updated 4:28 pm with Trump reaction, 9:46 pm with vote correction

By a vote of 59 to 41, the United States Senate voted today to approve House Joint Resolution 46, overturning President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration on the border.

Twelve Republicans joined Democrats in voting to terminate the emergency declaration.

Florida’s two Republican senators split, with Marco Rubio voting against Trump to terminate the emergency and Rick Scott voting with him to continue it.

Other Republicans who voted to terminate the state of emergency were Mitt Romney and Mike Lee of Utah, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

After the vote President Trump issued a tweet with the single word “VETO!” He then elaborated in a second tweet a few minutes later (capitalization his): “I look forward to VETOING the just passed Democrat inspired Resolution which would OPEN BORDERS while increasing Crime, Drugs, and Trafficking in our Country. I thank all of the Strong Republicans who voted to support Border Security and our desperately needed WALL!”

The House and Senate are expected to attempt an override of any veto, which will require a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

In the House, on Feb. 26 Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) joined 11 other Republicans who voted to terminate the emergency while Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted with the president.

Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Silverberg

 

US House votes to terminate state of emergency; Rooney breaks with party to oppose Trump

02-27-19 The_Capitol_at_Dawn

The US Capitol at dawn.  (Photo: Architect of the US Capitol)

Feb. 27, 2019 by David Silverberg

Updated 11:40 am with Rooney statement and link to bill

Last night, Feb. 26, The US House of Representatives voted 245 to 182 to terminate President Donald Trump’s state of emergency on the southern border.

In a startling break with his Republican colleagues and the president, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) voted with the Democratic majority to pass the bill. Until now Rooney has voted 100 percent with the president’s agenda in the 116th Congress. He joined 12 other Republicans in rejecting the state of emergency declaration, made on Feb. 15.

In a statement, Rooney declared: “I voted for the resolution because I believe in the rule of law and strict adherence to our Constitution. We are, as John Adams said, ‘A nation of laws, not men.’ The ends cannot justify the means; that is exactly what the socialists want.

“We need to secure our border and control who enters the United States but this emergency declaration is not the answer – fixing our broken immigration system is: adopting skill-based immigration, not family-based; policing visa overstays; ending the diversity lottery; making E-verify required of all employers; and stopping asylum abuse by requiring that asylum claims can only be made at a legal point of entry to the United States.”

The bill, House Joint Resolution 46, introduced on Feb. 22 by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-20-Texas), now goes to the Senate.

Should the bill be passed in the Senate, President Trump is widely expected to veto it.

Trump’s emergency declaration came after Congress passed a federal spending bill that did not include Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall. At the press conference announcing his state of emergency declaration, Trump stated that he did not have to declare a state of emergency but that it would facilitate his getting the money more quickly. In addition to the congressional vote, the declaration is being challenged in court.

In addition to Democratic arguments that there was no national emergency at the border, that the declaration was an unconstitutional end-run to get money Congress had not appropriated and that success on this issue would lead Trump to declare further emergencies every time he wanted something, conservatives were also critical of the declaration. For example, the conservative, Koch-brothers funded Cato Institute, an ideological think tank, also argued against it in an essay, “There Is No National Emergency on the Border, Mr. President.”

Ironically, the vote against the declaration of emergency came on the eve of the 86th anniversary of the Reichstag fire in Germany. On Feb. 27, 1933 a fire broke out in the Reichstag building housing Germany’s parliament. A Dutch communist was held responsible and Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party used the incident to declare an emergency in Germany and pass laws that consolidated an unchecked Nazi dictatorship.

Liberty lives in light

 

Analysis: The impact of Trump’s border wall on Southwest Florida

02-05-19 Drug smuggling plane and El Chapo - CBP

A private aircraft purchased in Michigan in 2014 by the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, headed by drug lord “El Chapo” (inset), to smuggle drugs into the United States. A border wall will do nothing to stop drugs coming into the US on private aircraft.       (Photo: DHS)

Feb. 5, 2019 by David Silverberg

Tonight, President Donald Trump will stand before the full Congress of the United States and the American people and make his case for a wall along the entire length of the US southwestern border.

The merits of this proposal are quite debatable. But beyond the overall national arguments, would a wall have any impact on Southwest Florida?

The short answer is: directly, no. The longer answer is: secondarily, yes.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Direct impacts

According to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency in the Department of Homeland Security, Southwest Florida has only two official “ports of entry”— authorized places where people and goods come into the country from abroad.

One of these is Florida Southwest International Airport (RSW), which handles commercial, scheduled, non-stop international flights to and from destinations in Canada and Germany. RSW has both commercial flights and “general aviation”—the term for all other forms of civil flight that are unscheduled or non-commercial. General aviation in Southwest Florida usually means private aircraft like corporate jets or personal planes.

The other port of entry is Naples Airport, which handles only general aviation and passengers. “Port personnel are the face at the border for returning residents and visitors entering the United States,” according to CBP—i.e., airport employees rather than federal officials handle incoming passengers.

General aviation has long been a concern for border and security authorities both for its potential use for terrorist purposes and its longstanding use for smuggling of all kinds, particularly illicit drugs.

Indeed, Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel run by Joaquín Guzmán Loera (El Chapo) ran a complete fleet of private aircraft for drug smuggling. Their tentacles even reached into Michigan where in 2014 they purchased a turboprop Rockwell International Commander 690B from a used-aircraft broker there. (The plane was seized in Texas the same year before it could be flown to Mexico.)

As should be obvious, a border wall is not going to stop large shipments of drugs coming into the United States—or for that matter, into Southwest Florida—on general aviation flights or in aircraft passengers’ luggage.

(Since Southwest Florida has no international seaports, maritime smuggling and migration is less of an issue for the region. Most seaborne illicit drug smuggling comes into Florida through Miami.)

Secondary impacts

Secondary impacts of the border wall could be enormous in Southwest Florida. Federal funding would likely be diverted from internal and infrastructure uses to the border wall. These impacts could include:

  • Taking funding from Everglades restoration and Hoover Dike repairs;
  • Taking funds from disaster recovery and assistance programs;
  • A drop in federal support for any hurricane resilience projects to protect Southwest Florida;
  • Loss of federal resources for water purity projects and protections;
  • Diversion of customs and border security resources in Florida to the southwest land border.

In addition, President Donald Trump’s policies are hurting Southwest Florida agriculture. The lack of comprehensive immigration reform means there is no guest worker or seasonal program to legally supply temporary workers for Southwest Florida farms, particularly in Collier County. That in turn could lead to labor shortages, higher food prices and lower agricultural productivity, impacting the local economy.

Conclusion

President Donald Trump’s unnecessary and ineffective border wall will impact every American and will have demonstrably deleterious impacts on Southwest Florida while failing in its primary mission of keeping out undocumented migrants and illicit drugs.

To read more about the reasons to oppose the wall, read: America, don’t build this wall.

To read why Democrats are holding firm against the wall, read: Why Democrats can’t cave on the wall.

Liberty lives in light

 

 

Analysis: Why Democrats are holding firm against Trump’s wall

President Trump Meets With Nancy Pelosi And Chuck Schumer At White House

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the White House on Dec. 11, 2018.

Today is the 32nd day of Trump’s government shutdown

In this article:

  • Conflicting definitions of “border security”
  • Pelosi’s reasons for opposing the wall
  • Appeasing Trump and the potential for corruption
  • What’s at stake in the wall debate

 

Jan. 22, 2019 by David Silverberg

Why do congressional Democrats, led by House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), keep holding firm against a border wall despite President Donald Trump’s offers on Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the pain and damage caused by his shutdown of the federal government?

The longer the shutdown goes on, the more it will affect Southwest Florida. Already, government services are eroding and federal workers are suffering.

No part of the wall, as conceived to date, will apply directly to Southwest Florida. The only local “port of entry”—an authorized place where people and goods come into the country—is Southwest Florida International Airport. A wall will do nothing to stop unauthorized travelers or contraband from entering through there—notwithstanding the demand by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) that a wall be built.

Still, it’s worthwhile to fully understand the issue and understanding must began with conflicting definitions of “border security.”

Border security

As traditionally defined, “border security” means securing a nation from all external threats entering its territory while facilitating legitimate trade, travel, commerce and migration.

Under this definition, agencies responsible for border security must secure all forms of entry whether by land, air or sea. Most of this interaction takes place at ports of entry—airports, seaports and land entry points.

Done right, traditional border security is a complex and nuanced form of national protection, requiring extensive intelligence collection, cooperation with neighboring countries, adherence to international agreements and active involvement by local, regional and national law enforcement. Border security agencies must maintain efficient entry for legal goods, services, trade and people who enrich the country and enhance its economy while weeding out threats and dangers.

Ever since the end of World War II, there has been a global movement to reduce national barriers to trade and travel and smooth the flow of goods and people. This received a big boost with the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union in 1991 and the founding of the European Union in 1992. Following this and the establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995, for the first time the entire world was playing by the same set of border rules with only a few, isolated exceptions.

Trump’s border wall

Donald Trump keeps invoking “border security” as his rationale for keeping the government shut down but it is clear from his many statements that he defines border security in only one way: a physical barrier or wall running across the entire length of the US southwestern border.

There is no subtlety or subtext in his invocations of border security: It must be a wall of some kind. Having been a developer and builder, his thinking is very simplistic and—literally—concrete. While his descriptions of this wall have varied a great deal from time to time, he can only conceive of border security in terms of brick and mortar.

What is more, his definition of border security is aimed at only two threats—unauthorized migrants coming from Mexico or Central America and illegal drugs.

Analysis: Why are the Democrats holding firm?

Perhaps Pelosi’s most eloquent and complete explanation of her rejection of Trump’s demands came on Jan. 4, shortly after she was sworn in as Speaker.

“The fact is, a wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation,” she said in a press conference. “And this is not a wall between Mexico and the United States that the president is creating here. It’s a wall between reality and his constituents, his supporters. He does not want them to know what he’s doing to Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security in his budget proposal. He does not want them to know what he’s doing to clean air and clean water and the rest in his Department of Interior and EPA. He does not want them to know how he is hurting them so he keeps the subject on the wall, a master of diversion.”

She was equally emphatic in describing the wall’s shortcomings. “The president cannot hold public employees hostage because he wants to have a wall that is not effective in terms of its purpose, cost effective in terms of opportunity cost, in terms of federal dollars spent. The President has said Mexico is going to pay for this. Come on, let’s anchor ourselves into reality. Mexico is not going to pay for this wall.”

She rejected the idea that the impasse was merely political. “It has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with a wall, an immorality between countries. It’s an old way of thinking. It isn’t cost effective.”

Let’s look at each reason in turn:

It’s immoral.

While this was the first thing Pelosi mentioned, it’s perhaps the weakest argument because morality is in the eye of the beholder. Certainly, Trump’s proposed wall goes against all American precedent and the entire globalist movement of the last nearly 30 years. That movement was the result of the lessons learned from World War II and the dangers of hyper-nationalism. It was also the result of the relief at the end of the Cold War, which brought the world together for the first time. The Cold War in particular was symbolized by a stark and grotesque wall—the Berlin Wall. When it came down, the world united. Trump’s wall takes the world back to that dark and dangerous time. In that sense, it is indeed immoral.

“It’s a wall between reality and his constituents, his supporters.”

Indeed, Trump’s wall is a single, focused project that consumes all thoughts of other issues and problems, or as Pelosi put it, it walls his supporters off from the harm he’s otherwise doing to them.

Massive building projects have long been characteristic of despots. Those whom Trump most closely resembles—the Roman emperor Nero and Adolf Hitler—both had their grandiose building plans: Nero his Domus Aurea or Gold House, a mammoth palace that featured a 120-foot statue of Nero in the entrance, and Hitler his Germania, a complete reworking of Berlin into a monument of world domination that was never completed.

A single, simple project is useful for keeping simple minds distracted and as Pelosi pointed out, Trump is “a master of diversion.” His is a simple mind that appeals to similarly simple minds, of which, unfortunately, there are many.

As a result, he’s also a master at hammering home a few simple themes, as his presidential campaign showed. But what goes for his followers also goes for Trump himself. He’s not only attempting to build a wall between reality and his followers; he seems to be trying to wall out any threats, challenges or even insecurities to himself. And, of course, he’s walling out different races, different people and different cultures—in short, anything that isn’t Trump.

“It’s an old way of thinking. It isn’t cost effective.”

This is absolutely true. Until the impasse, members of Congress had gone through their normal budgeting exercise and appropriated $1.6 billion for border security as traditionally defined. That budget was ready for Trump’s signing. Stung by criticism from right-wing pundits, Trump rejected the budget and demanded $5 billion for his wall (later raised to $5.7 billion).

Border experts and members of the US Border Patrol itself had long argued that the varied terrain of the US southwestern border required a variety of barriers and obstacles to be secured. Post-2001 calls for a continuous wall (and there were some) were dismissed as too expensive and ineffective.

Between 2006 and 2011 the US Department of Homeland Security initiated a Strategic Border Initiative to tighten up US borders, particularly in the southwest. Part of that was the Strategic Border Initiative Network (SBInet), which attempted to create a “virtual wall” along the border using radars, sensors and electronic networking. But after five years of experimentation and a billion dollars spent, the program was canceled, never having achieved its aims.

The idea of a continuous, static barrier has also been criticized in the past as ineffective. In 2007 Janet Napolitano, then governor of Arizona and later to be Secretary of Homeland Security, told the National Press Club: “I’ve prosecuted the illegal immigrants and the smugglers; I have also vetoed eight bills from my state legislature that I deemed overly harsh and ineffective. I declared a state of emergency and was the first governor to openly advocate for the National Guard at the border; yet, I also have refused to agree that a wall by itself is an answer. As I often say, ‘You show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.’”

Napolitano didn’t just criticize wall ideas. She also had a prescription for a solution: “The first is the development of innovative, technology-driven border control between the ports of entry. Boots on the ground definitely help, but we can shore up our border gaps with ground-based sensors, radar, and unmanned aerial vehicles for wide-area intrusive-detection. Any combination of the above will work far better than any 10 or 20 or 50 miles of wall.”

Other considerations: Stopping appeasement

While Pelosi focused on moral and cost issues and denied that politics were involved, there is definitely a political dimension to the Democratic objection to the wall and it was best put by Sen. John Warner (D-Va.) in a Jan. 20 tweet: “We cannot reward hostage-taking. If the President can arbitrarily shut down the government now and get what he wants, he will do it time and again.”

Donald Trump has engendered such distrust and outrage and has shown so little moderation or maturity in his behavior that Democrats know that handing him anything he perceives as a “win” will only increase his appetite for new demands and power grabs. It is reminiscent of what Winston Churchill said after the appeasing Munich conference of 1938: Hitler, “instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.” Eighty years later, Democrats are determined not to serve Trump such victuals course by course—or in any other form.

Incompetence, waste and corruption

Ordinarily, government acquisitions and building projects are subject to exhaustive review before being initiated. They are then governed by myriad acquisition rules and regulations. Cost estimates are the result of a lengthy drafting process before even being submitted by a Cabinet department for review by the Office of Management and Budget. They are then submitted to Congress where they are examined, authorized and the money is appropriated by the House and Senate before going to the President for signature. Some projects have taken decades before being reaching the point where they are funded.

There is no indication that Trump’s initial $5 billion figure—subsequently raised to $5.7 billion—was in any way considered, reviewed or evaluated before he just demanded it. To put it in the vernacular, he seems to have pulled the number out of his butt. He could have used the money originally appropriated by Congress toward advancing a phase of the project—if there was an orderly, phased approach to the project at all.

In fact, the wall project has been a disorderly, chaotic and absurd charade from the beginning.

As USA Today reported as early as May, 2017: “‘From the beginning it’s not a serious process, it’s not going to get the wall built,’ Michael Hari said of the process. His Illinois-based company, Crisis Resolution Security Services, submitted a design inspired by the Great Wall of China. ‘Right from the get-go there were conflicts, there was not enough time given to it, to develop a reasonable process that would result in a wall getting built,’ he said.”

If Democrats accede to Trump’s $5 billion demand, the future holds further demands for unreviewed, unexamined and unexplained appropriations.

These kinds of disorderly demands hold the promise of vastly more waste, fraud and abuse than the highly structured and restricted projects that the government has traditionally pursued—and even then there have always been instances of waste, fraud and abuse. Ironically enough, it was usually a Republican mantra that vast savings could be found in government budgets by cutting waste, fraud and abuse, thereby eliminating the need to raise taxes. Trump’s $5.7 billion wall demand holds the promise of a bounty of corruption for unqualified contractors, fly-by-night grifters and the whole horde of greedy hangers-on who thrive in the dark cracks of government contracting.

In her rebuttal to Trump’s national address on the wall on Jan. 8, Pelosi put forward some solid border security proposals: “The fact is: We all agree that we need to secure our borders, while honoring our values: we can build the infrastructure and roads at our ports of entry; we can install new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation; we can hire the personnel we need to facilitate trade and immigration at the border; and we can fund more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings.”

All of this could be done at a fraction of the cost of Trump’s wall.

Conclusion

This is not a negotiation any more than the Munich agreement was a negotiation with Adolf Hitler: he made a demand and offered vague promises in return. The West acceded and, as Winston Churchill put it to Neville Chamberlin: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.”

What is at stake here is not a war. But those firmly opposing Trump and his wall know that surrender on this wall means surrendering far more than $5.7 billion. It means far more than constructing an abomination across the southern US border. What is at stake is whether America will wall itself in and become a hermetic, static, racist state dominated by a despotic and bullying Donald Trump or remain an open, diverse, free and confident democracy.

Sadly, the casualty of this fight is the finest civil service in the world and everything it built over the last 240 years. It was work that made America prosperous, secure and free. It’s hard to imagine that the government and its employees can ever recover the stature and sense of service they are losing.

But by demanding a wall and demanding it so starkly and leaving no room for maneuver, Trump has drawn a line in the sand, so to speak.

Compromise requires the possibility of win-win outcomes. However, Trump insists on living in a win-lose universe. It’s the universe that he chose for himself and wants to impose on us all. Now, to maintain his dominance, he must win on the wall.

The wall must not be built. Unless he loses on this one, America will never be great “again.” And that’s why Democrats are fighting.

Liberty lives in light