A long wall and a longer shutdown

Ysabela Golden

Trump’s border wall has been looming in our country’s political background noise since his election in 2016 — mentioned occasionally, remembered vividly, but never put into action. It wasn’t necessarily expected to be put into action either. Even some of Trump’s most loyal followers saw “the wall” as a stand-in for more varied and extensive increases in border security, not just a slab of concrete spanning thousands of miles and costing billions of dollars. Even Republican senator Lindsey Graham, a man no one could accuse of compromising with his Democratic opponents, said on Dec. 30 that “the wall has become a metaphor for border security,” and not a literal physical barrier across the entirety of the border. 

Trump, on the other hand, seems to be entirely literal. Whether he’s discussing the cost benefits of concrete or tweeting about the aesthetic advantage of steel slats, the $5.6 billion he’s demanding from House Democrats is intended for construction, period. There lies the basis of our now two-week long government shutdown. Trump turns down even his own vice president’s attempts at compromise on his costly asking price, and to democrats any amount of funding for the construction of a physical wall is a non-starter. Various republican lawmakers have chimed in with their own concepts of compromise; tying the wall funding to Obama-era Dreamer protections for immigrant children that Trump has been attempting to repeal, or even outlining a new bill for increased spending on border security that both parties can agree on. 

Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell, however, has elected to keep his distance from the negotiations. Though arguably just as capable of ending the government shutdown as Trump, he’s insisted that it’s up to the President and the democrats to reach a solution and refuses to bring any legislation Trump will veto to the senate floor. His decision to effectively bench the republican party in a conflict between the democrats and the White House is the safest strategy in preparation for the precarious 2020 elections, but it does nothing for the 800,000 government employees who have been either temporarily laid off or are working without pay. Even worse, it does nothing for the government agencies who are slowly running out of the funding they need to do their jobs. On Jan. 5, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, warned Washington lawmakers that as is the FDA only has the finances to continue working for another month at most.

Unfortunately for the FDA, not only have senior republicans warned that the shutdown could last multiple months but in negotiations on Jan. 4 Trump himself threatened that “he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.” As of Jan. 6, this shutdown was already tied with the United States’ second longest shutdown at 16 days. We haven’t had a shutdown longer than 21 days since before 1980, when the current shutdown rules were employed and it was decided that the majority of government work had to cease until funded by congress.

“Months or even years” is a very long time for our country to be working at absolute minimum capacity. Too long. The proposed border wall has been a defining feature of Trump’s political platform since his campaign — but how much will it end up being worth to the Republican party members who’ve decided to stay out of the fight?