10 January 2019
Build Up This Wall!
Fencing in the US.
By J R Thomas
Happy New Year Mr President! And it started well enough with the announcement by Senator Elizabeth Warren that she intends to run for the Democrat nomination for President in 2020, showing how much a person of the people she is by releasing a home video of herself drinking beer from a bottle. Mr Trump could barely conceal his glee – not about the home movie or about the way his nickname for her of “Pocahontas” has stuck, but because she is exactly the sort of Democrat which led old fashioned Democrat voters to vote for Donald two years ago. And swigging beer from the bottle neck will not bring them whooping back, Senator.
But the Trump New Year will be a tough one. The birds of November have now come home to roost, at least in the House of Representatives, where the new Democrat majority have taken their seats. It is, in many ways, a major change, with the highest ever representation of ethnic minorities, and of women. (That contrasts noticeably with the GOP side of the House, where the Grand Old Party is certainly living up to its tradition; being white and male to an astonishing degree.) However, in the Democrat ranks one thing has not changed: Nancy Pelosi, aged 78, is once again Leader, but this time Majority Leader rather than the Minority Leadership job which she has had to put up with in recent years. And with that name badge on her well tailored lapel she has already steamed into combat with the President.
But let’s come back later to her visit to the White House, and salute first Ms Pelosi’s sweeping victory. There was a time when Nancy was regarded as a dangerous red (in the European sense – a dangerous blue in the land of the free) and there has been much muttering in recent years that the Democrat leadership needs to shift a generation. The new intake in the House is a much deeper red than their Leader, and that was thought likely to lead to her retreat to the bank benches. But Nancy was determined to reap the rewards of victory, and more, the party rallied behind her as a symbol of unification, of conciliation, of a willingness to compromise, to concentrate on the fight against the bouffant haired one. And another thing: Ms Pelosi is one of the most skilled operators on Capitol Hill, and knows where the bodies are buried (hell, she dug the graves in so many cases), and her control of the party is still impressive.
But for how long?
President Reagan on his visit to West Berlin thirty two years ago invited Mr Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. But the current President is more about building walls than tearing them down, and two years into his presidency he has nothing in place to fulfil what was his most eye-catching, and controversial, campaign pledge. The wall was 580 miles long when he moved into the White House, and it still is – another 1,400 odd miles to go and no money available to do it. Mr Trump is getting more than a little fed up with his inability to get that wall built (or maybe it’s going to be a fence, the President is not doctrinaire about these things) and, if you were by any chance in Yellowstone National Park or any other Federal recreational facility over New Year, you may have felt his anger. The federal government is slowly shutting down many of its activities because the budget allocation approved by Congress has expired and Mr Trump will not be approving a new one unless it includes a wall (or fence) building allowance. Which the House is not prepared to do. Stalemate, and no paychecks for many federal employees. Mr T says that the American public understand and support his position on this one (even those not getting paid), but the opinion polls suggest that only about a third of voters are blaming Congress.
So off went the new Leader to point out to The Donald that things have changed and he now has an opposition in the House, and will have to start being more inclined to compromise, to say nothing of being more political. As you may guess, that did not go down to well. Nancy went to see the President after the midterms last November, with results she may yet regret – she called the President “a skunk”, adding: “I was trying to be the mom. But it goes to show you – you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”
She did indeed. It was not regarded as especially sage commentary at the time and this time Ms Pelosi was more circumspect; in her press briefing after her trip to Pennsylvania Avenue she opined that she thought the President was not too keen on open government, would prefer probably very closed government, and ideally to abolish Congress. She seemed genuinely surprised by such a notion. The President had his own play – he reiterated at his press conference that he could just declare a state of emergency and start building the Wall under the funding powers of such emergency legislation. A number of lawyers; well, vast numbers of lawyers; are thinking about that, but the opinion is mostly that he can’t – unless it is a real emergency. Which the President might decide it is. At which point everybody turns to the Supreme Court. Who very wisely will not offer any opinions unless somebody asks them formally.
The President said the lockdown could last months, or years, which is one way of hitting spending targets, though his press secretary told yet another press conference (you know where everybody was that day) that talks going on with the Democrat leadership were making some progress. None of that means much – except that politics in Washington is back to the historic model where the politicos argue and strike attitudes, and do entirely different things behind the scenery. The President is a quick learner; Tuesday night he gave his first ever fireside TV address to the nation justifying in sweetly reasonable terms the need for the wall, and the money to build it, and deftly turning the knife to point out that extending and improving border security was a key policy of the Obama administration who wanted to spend $1.8bn on it, not far off what Mr T is asking for. (He did not point out that the Republicans blocked the expenditure.) This ain’t going be easy for Nancy. The obvious compromise is to not commit to a whole wall, or even a whole fence, but to strengthen the weak points in the present structures. But there are a lot of newly erected Democrats that do not want any more wall, not even a yard of it, and for once would prefer to follow the Reagan message, and those new House members may soon become restive at any suggestion of compromising with the devil, or even a skunk.
A lesser House leader than Ms Pelosi would soon be wishing that they had never taken the job, but nobody should under-estimate Nancy’s ambition or determination. She is the highest ranking female politician in the USA now. Sorry Mesdames Clinton and Warren, but she is, and she is going to enjoy that, and if she can, leave a mark on history that will be one for women as well as the Pelosi name. And it may well be that it is only her new friends on the benches behind her that can stop her.