In Wednesday’s Tribune-Herald, we published a letter from a San Antonio resident with clear pro-wall sympathies. He proposed a border-security compromise: funding for a wall along the United States’ southern border; a pathway to citizenship for the so-called “Dreamers” (or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applicants) but not the parents who brought them across the border illegally; and a requirement all employers use E-Verify, complete with seriously punitive consequences for all caught knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, whether those employers are farmers, construction contractors or high-tech firms. Like this plan or not, the letter writer at least offered a compromise. Good for him.
When we sat down in front of the TV Tuesday night for what the White House said would be a speech of about 10 minutes on wall funding, we hoped to see something similar: a Republican president masterfully moving the needle on his own border-wall proposal. By the time 10 minutes had passed, we realized nothing in the way of major concessions to Democrats and moderate Republicans was coming beyond a proposed wall of steel rather than concrete and millions of dollars in humanitarian aid in exchange for billions of dollars for a Trumpian wall.
We call it a lost opportunity.
This president badly needed to seize the opportunity of a prime-time White House broadcast to invigorate his point and convince doubters, of which there are many. Not only do polls repeatedly suggest most Americans oppose a border wall, they also blame the president and Republicans for a devastating, market-bashing government shutdown to force wall funding. They marvel as the president picks winners and losers in what to fund and not fund. Taxpayers, sure, you’ll get your IRS refunds. Air traffic controllers, sorry, no pay, but keep on working — and try to keep all those planes from crashing into one another.
In the end, the president succeeded Tuesday night only in satisfying those who already believe in his wall. He did nothing to show he’s willing to be reasonable. He did nothing to offer some sort of significant compromise to save his plan. Worse, he and his administration have told so many flat-out lies, they’ve not only made Hillary Clinton a paragon of truth by comparison, they’ve undermined their own cause. No less than Fox News anchor Chris Wallace had to slap down White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders last Sunday for an easily scuttled lie about thousands of terrorists being nabbed at the southern border. Nope. Not true.
Republicans obediently fell into line after the president’s speech. To quote a Tuesday night statement by Republican Congressman Bill Flores, who represents Waco: “The president has put forward a common-sense proposal to follow through on border security and Congress could pass it in hours if it would put American families ahead of politics. This proposal includes enhanced border security, increased law enforcement and border patrol, increased numbers of immigration judge resources, provides more detention beds, strengthens counter-narcotics technology and provides for additional humanitarian needs. I remain committed to supporting solutions that provide the resources needed to keep hardworking American families safe.”
Yet in an interview with a Trib editorial board member Monday night, Flores smartly suggested a robust compromise when asked what advice he would give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at this juncture: “If she really wanted to be a rock-star hero, she would say, ‘You know, Mr. President, we will accept your proposal for border security for $5.7 billion but you got to have DACA.’ That’s a win. You’d get a bunch of Democrats voting for it, you’d get a bunch of Republicans voting for it. The president looks good, Pelosi looks good, [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer looks good. The problem is that everyone wants this president to look bad.”
So what then is Flores, one of the most respected members of the Texas Republican congressional delegation, doing to keep fellow Republicans from looking bad?
Consider, too, the critical nuance Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas puts into the border-security debate. To quote from his remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday: “In my experience and in learning from the experts, they tell me it’s no one-size-fits-all solution. We need to look at border security as a combination of three things. Physical infrastructure. Yes, that includes barriers, walls, fences, vehicle barriers in appropriate locations, but it also includes technology, radar, ground sensors, drones, aerostats. This is a layered approach that provides flexibility for the experts on the ground to determine what is best for each sector, what is best for each part of our immense border, and implement the changes necessary to achieve desired results.”
Why then can’t this president and GOP allies articulate this vision in actual negotiations?
The president will be in our state Thursday to tour the border but more likely to grandstand and rail. Given his administration’s serious credibility problem — including the president’s falsely claiming past presidents told him how much they wished they had built the wall — it’s unlikely this president is savvy enough to use the visit to strengthen his case. Too many state and federal lawmakers who represent the Texas borderland say the crisis is exaggerated — and that most illegal immigrants overstay visas and most illicit drugs come through U.S. ports of entry.
The success of U.S. presidents depends heavily on their ability to not only continue whipping political bases into a frenzy but also demonstrating enough flexibility and negotiating chops to get some semblance of their ideas past the finish line. If President Trump’s visit to Texas includes more of the same refried rhetoric of late, he will have wasted a lot of jet fuel and taxpayer investment for absolutely nothing.