A Trump’s shutdown is not about border security

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

For a sense of the true cost of his government shutdown, now deep into its second week, President Trump should spend less time rage-tweeting and venting his spleen in cabinet meetings about Democrats’ refusal to throw money away on his wasteful border wall and more time perusing the #shutdownstories making the rounds.

With even a quick peek beyond his bubble, the president could learn much about the legions of government employees and contractors who spent the holiday season agonizing over how to cover their next mortgage payment or electric bill or trip to the grocery store if this political charade drags on much longer.

Let’s be clear: This fight is not about security. Contrary to Mr. Trump’s claims, there is no flood of savage foreigners pouring across the border. Even so, reasonable Democrats and Republicans acknowledge a need for some mix of a bigger staff, better technology and, yes, fencing — as well as humane and sensible immigration and asylum policies. Achieving all of that has proved a tall order even for competent administrations. But it’s why Congress, on a bipartisan basis, has already been allocating more money for border security — although the administration has spent less than 10 percent of what Congress has allocated in the past year.

To avoid the complex, hard work that has traditionally gone with his job, Mr. Trump has instead manufactured a political impasse over a symbol, a wall, that even his new acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, back when he was a congressman, derided as “an easy thing to sell politically” that “doesn’t really solve the problem.” John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s departing chief of staff, told The Los Angeles Times that the administration long ago abandoned the idea of a concrete wall as irrelevant to the real needs of border security — drawing a heated contradiction from the president on Twitter.

If Mr. Trump would take the time to check in with what’s happening in the real world, he might read about the divorced Army veteran who’d worked “three jobs to survive” before getting hired as a paralegal at the Federal Trade Commission — and who now has no idea if he’ll make the rent. He could hear from the single mother who says that she’ll have enough for rent — but not for food. He might be moved by the wife of a corrections officer wondering how her family will handle their “mortgage, day care and car payments” while her husband is working without pay. Or by the disabled Air Force vet who, having waited more than a year for “service-connected surgery,” cannot get final approval for her procedure until the shutdown ends.

An estimated 800,000 federal workers have had their lives upended by this latest presidential temper tantrum. Some 420,000 of those, deemed “essential personnel,” are working without pay. This includes upward of 41,000 law enforcement officials, 54,000 Border Patrol agents and 53,000 Transportation Security Administration workers. (If you flew this holiday season, it was only thanks to these unpaid women and men.) Another 380,000 workers have been furloughed, including 28,800 employees of the Forest Service, 16,000 in the National Park Service and 16,700 at NASA.

Guest Editorial