In the courtroom drama “A Few Good Men,” Jack Nicholson’s powerful portrayal of a colonel who covers up illegal orders and manipulates flight logs earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. In the film, however, his character falls victim to arrogance, angrily confessing after being caught giving contradictory explanations. That’s where President Trump finds himself in the debate over the government shutdown he forced: arrogant, awash in contradictions, and angrily confessing that he never intended for Mexico to pay for the wall.
Unfortunately, the consequences of this political drama are real. The Trump administration doubled its initial forecast of what the shutdown will cost recently. Approaching $5 billion, the president’s political theater has drained almost as much from the economy as what he wants in funding for his wall. The expected hit to economic growth could also mean that any benefit conservatives claimed from last year’s tax cuts will be essentially erased.
The American people aren’t buying the president’s arguments. Polls show that a majority blame him and congressional Republicans for the shutdown, and most Americans oppose his one-size-fits-all approach to border security. That’s not surprising since Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is largely sitting things out after being burned in December by the president, who only backed out of a deal to keep the government funded because he was criticized by conservatives in the media.
If the president has achieved anything, it is to cast a spotlight on the many contradictions at play in this national debate. For starters, consider that in the name of border security, the president is forcing Border Patrol agents to work without pay. Stew on that for a minute.
Then consider that this week, an updated report from the Center for Migration Studies confirmed that most of the immigrants who lack legal status arrived through airports and overstayed visas for the seventh year in a row. Only 38 percent came through a border (sometimes the northern one). Pause for a moment on the fact that TSA agents at airports are also working without pay because of the Trump shut down, but don’t lose sight of the key point here. Airports are a bigger factor in the underlying issue of immigrants without legal status than the southern border.
The contradictions don’t end there. In one of his strangest moves, President Trump said he would compromise by building the wall with steel slats instead of concrete, because Democrats had asked for that. Except Democrats didn’t ask for that.
While we’re on old movies, the president and conservatives in the media also tried to argue that, many years before Mr. Trump was in office, Democrats had made similar statements about the need for border security. Videos resurfaced to prove it, including one of Bill Clinton from 1995, and another of Barack Obama from 2005 before he was president. But in 1995 and 2005, illegal border crossings exceeded a million per year, far, far, far higher than they are today. What those videos prove is that Democrats and Republicans alike have been a part of the border security improvements over the last 20 years that have contributed to a significant decline in illegal border crossings. Thanks for pointing that out, Mr. President. In fact, illegal border crossings got so low last year that the Trump administration tried to take credit for it. Oops! That doesn’t exactly help the crisis argument.
During the Obama administration, in which I served for four years, we added thousands of Border Patrol agents, while we doubled aerial and ground surveillance systems, and shifted resources to better process immigration cases in the courts. We also made improvements in interior enforcement, focusing on those with criminal records. So if the president and his allies want to argue that Democrats are against border security while they play videos that contradict them, I’ll take it.
Finally, the president’s argument about drugs coming over the southern border, while important, has also not stood up to scrutiny. It is now widely reported that those drugs mostly flow through ports of entry, not the remote areas where he would build a wall.
So that leaves us with the argument some conservatives have made that the shutdown proves their case for smaller and more limited government. Well, sorry guys, the president contradicted you there too. He has now recalled tens of thousands of federal workers, including aviation safety inspectors, food and drug inspectors who ensure the safety of what we eat and the medicine we take, and Internal Revenue Service workers who process tax returns and refunds. He’s also recalling others who work on cleaning up national parks, and many who work on oil and gas leases. The State Department is also recalling its furloughed employees.
So while he pretends to be extending the shutdown, the president is conceding that we need these federal workers, these public servants, back on the job. It turns out they’re essential. That doesn’t mean all is back to normal. Federal workers and private sector contractors will continue to go unpaid, which means hardship for them, and unemployment offices in red and blue states alike having to step in to help. That can’t continue.
The president’s latest announcement is just more theater, since it was his own decision to create a problem for DREAMers and those with TPS in the first place. By bowing to ultra conservative pundits and promising to make this a 2020 campaign issue, the president has already revealed what this shutdown is really about. His confession, that he never meant it when he said Mexico would pay for the wall, should’ve been the end of it. It’s time to thank our civil servants and let them get back to work.
Luis Miranda is a former communications aide to President Obama and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee. He is managing director at Ambassador Public Affairs and a Political Partner with the Truman National Security Project. The views expressed are his own.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.