After a 35-day government shutdown, weeks of congressional negotiations to avoid a second shutdown and a widespread consensus among voters that the White House was to blame for it all, President Donald Trump ended up with $1.375 billion for border fencing—less money than he would’ve received had he avoided it all by signing the bipartisan spending bill in December.
It is clear to almost every political observer who has watched the events of the past few days unfold that on this fight, Democrats won and Trump lost.
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And equally clear was that the president would try to spin this as a victory, even as he was left to declare a national emergency—circumventing Congress to build his border wall. “We have so much money, we don’t know what to do with it,” Trump said in a speech Friday in the Rose Garden. “I don’t know what to do with all the money they’re giving us. It’s crazy.”
Democrats consciously decided to hold off on gloating until the funding bill was signed, worried that Trump could renege on the deal. Privately, though, they hadn’t yet tired of all the winning.
But as a matter of both policy and strategy, is just saying “no”—as Democrats did in these negotiations—a sustainable long-term approach to dealing with Trump? Is it enough to simply block his immigration objectives, or do Democrats need to come up with an alternative policy of their own? And just what should that policy be?
We asked some of the brightest strategists and policy minds in the Democratic Party. Here’s what they had to say.
‘There’s a risk of Trump being able to define the alternative’
Celinda Lake is a pollster and Democratic political strategist, and the president of the polling firm Lake Research Partners.
For a long time, Democrats have offered proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. It’s essential that they continue to, both as a matter of policy and politics: Two-thirds of voters believe we need comprehensive reform and support a road map to citizenship, and the proposal is very popular with Latino voters and whites, each of which are important groups for Democrats to win over in 2020.
Having such a proposal also protects against many of President Trump’s attacks. In the absence of a clearly defined alternative to the president, there’s a risk of Trump being able to define the alternative to his own benefit.
‘Stopping ill-advised policy is only the down payment’ for what Dems must do next
Cecilia Muñoz is vice president of New America, and served as director of the domestic policy council for President Barack Obama.
It’s tremendously important for the sake of the country that Democrats demonstrate the capacity to block the president’s misguided policy agenda, including his insistence on wasting billions on a wall which most of the country understands is more of a symbol than an actual border strategy. But stopping ill-advised policy is only the down payment; the bigger opportunity for Democrats is to demonstrate that what they offer the country is the capacity to govern, to bring order out of the chaos created by this president, and restore our faith that our policymakers can address our challenges effectively.
There are indeed challenges that become visible at the U.S.-Mexico border. One of these is the fact that we have a refugee crisis in our hemisphere: Instability and violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala is leading people to flee, either by sending their children north in the hands of smugglers, or by bringing their children north themselves. This is vastly more than a border management problem; it requires a strategy with international and domestic components, including procedures to protect the integrity of our borders while also living up to our moral and legal obligation to protect those whose lives are in danger. Democrats are right to stand in the way of the president’s worst instincts. Then they must show the country that they can lead by offering policies that are both more effective and more true to our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
‘Trump’s real concern is base politics, not border security’
Stephanie Cutter is the co-founder of Precision Strategies and was the deputy manager of President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.
No one disputes that Democrats are the champions of comprehensive immigration reform, and I expect that we’ll see more on reforms for Dreamers and other issues in the near future. But thanks to the leadership and negotiating power of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congresswomen Nita Lowey and Lucille Roybal Allard, Democrats now have the chance to make a proactive case on border security.
Why is it important for Democrats to do that? It’s not just about saying no to an ineffective, costly wall that’s more about President Trump’s politics than actual immigration policy or border security; it’s about offering a better alternative that makes record investments in smart technology, manpower, and other solutions that actually do the job of preventing illegal immigration—and because it does that, exposes that Trump’s real concern is base politics, not border security. Juxtapose that type of proposal with Trump, who shut down the government and bankrupted federal workers because he couldn’t fulfill his promise that Mexico will pay for his wall, and who, in the end, got less for that wall than what was offered before he shut down the government in the first place.
Voters sent a Democratic majority to Congress for moments like this
Symone D. Sanders is a Democratic strategist, CNN political commentator and former national press secretary of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.
Donald Trump’s immigration objectives are based on fear-mongering, partisanship and empty rhetoric, as opposed to facts, data and reality. The American people understand this, which is why they voted in 2018 to put a check on the president. That’s what voters expect, and Democrats cannot waver on that commitment. When put in this context, one can then understand Democrats’ opposition to Trump’s immigration objectives as more than just a function of a divided Congress. Rather, it is why the American people sent them Washington: to hold the president accountable.
Does Congress need to work toward comprehensive immigration reform? Yes. Should Democrats lay out what that looks like from their perspective? Absolutely. But that will take months of dedicated time, as well as a real commitment from Republicans to do what’s needed (as opposed to what is popular with Trump’s base)—and it would require a partner in President Trump, which is unlikely. It will take longer than three weeks to fix, and comprehensive immigration reform should not be conflated with Trump’s campaign fantasy of a border wall. The real question is this: How are Democrats expected to negotiate one of the most complex and pressing policy issues of our time with a man whose word can’t be trusted? Frankly, I think the answer is they cannot. Perhaps, comprehensive immigration reform will just have to wait for a real negotiator-in-chief.
On immigration, Dems must offer a more comprehensive vision than Hillary Clinton did in 2016
Stanley Greenberg is the co-founder of Democracy Corps, and a former pollster for President Bill Clinton, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and South African President Nelson Mandela.
As long as President Trump is focused on building the highest wall possible as a symbol of America repelling the dark hordes he imagines coming in caravans and hiding Muslim terrorists, opposition to Trump’s policy will be front and center. That’s smart politics: Our real-time dial testing on Trump’s recent State of the Union speech found that voters view Trump’s claims about the wall with great skepticism. His threatening talk about “caravans” and a border “crisis” backfired, even among white, working-class women. Literally every mention he made of the wall turned voters off, and it would be a strategic mistake for Democrats not to oppose him on this.
By and large, Democrats think the current immigration system is broken and favor comprehensive immigration reform—which is a big policy that manages immigration, including elevated enforcement, expanded family and work immigration, and a path to citizenship for those who have not committed other crimes and will pay back taxes. In 2016, the problem was that Hillary Clinton and others only remembered the path for citizenship for the undocumented and the Dreamers. But as we move closer to 2020, I’m sure Democratic candidates will become more articulate about how we champion our multiculturalism and manage immigration.
‘In the weeks ahead,’ House Dems should lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform
Neera Tanden is president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.
It’s clear that congressional Democrats emerged from this fight as the victorious party. But while Democrats in Congress were able to successfully crush the president’s demands for a $5.7 billion border wall, the Trump administration’s detention policies are still a disaster—with officials rounding up immigrants who have lived in and contributed to our country for decades.
Moving forward, Democrats in Congress should begin to lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform and build a truly effective system which is consistent with our nation’s values. At the core, the principal underpinning of this approach should be the rule of law. The central tenets of comprehensive reform are supported by an overwhelming majority of voters from across the political spectrum: offering an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who already serve as an integral part of our society; making smarter and more effective investments to strengthen our borders (instead of fixating upon an absurd border wall); designing a legal immigration system that matches the needs of families, workers, and American businesses; and ensuring that people seeking asylum have a fair opportunity to receive humanitarian protection.
In the weeks ahead, this work should begin with the introduction and passage of legislation in the House that provides permanent protections for Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status holders whose lives have been thrown into chaos by this administration. Congressional Democrats should own the widespread consensus around the issue of immigration—the American people stand with them, not Donald Trump.
Border security shouldn’t mean ‘a medieval wall from the Pacific to the Gulf’
Bob Shrum is a longtime Democratic strategist, and the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics at the University of Southern California.
In effect, there is a Democratic alternative to Trump’s immigration policies, along the lines of the 2013 “Gang of Eight” bill from Senators McCain, Schumer, Rubio, Durbin and others: a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including the Dreamers; liberalized rules for skilled immigrants; and E-Verify to be combined with border security. (And that border security is not a medieval wall from the Pacific to the Gulf.)
This can pass the House, but not a Senate cowed by Trump, who would veto it in any event. For now, Democrats can block Trump, and that’s popular. And after 2020, they can probably push through comprehensive reform, which contra-Trump, is very popular.
Dems must advance immigration reform ‘that protects immigrant communities and assures their safety and dignity’
K. Sabeel Rahman is president of Demos, a progressive think tank.
Trump’s wall and approach to immigration are a direct threat to the safety and well-being of immigrant communities. Let’s be clear: It’s another way for this administration to attack communities of color. This is a deep fight for our values and fundamentally it is about who counts as a full member of our society. By taking a moral stance on immigration and leading with our values, progressives are winning the larger fight for an America we can be proud of. In fact, a growing number of Americans support citizenship for people who are undocumented.
Democrats should back up this fight by advancing immigration reform that protects immigrant communities and assures their safety and dignity. This includes a direct, fair, and inclusive road to citizenship for immigrants without papers and provisions to ensure that undocumented immigrants are treated with respect and dignity by their employers and by law enforcement. Reforms must also be enacted to assure ICE and CBP accountability for atrocities like the family separation crisis, and which end the practice of arbitrary raids, prosecution, and harassment of communities of color under the guise of immigration enforcement. When all immigrants have full and equal rights, we will finally have an immigration system based on fairness and that upholds true American values.> Share on Facebook > Share on Twitter