The Art Of The Kneel: How Trump’s Tactics Kept Shrinking His Wall

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference to discuss a revised U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada in the Rose Garden of the White House on October 1, 2018 in W... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference to discuss a revised U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada in the Rose Garden of the White House on October 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. U.S. and Canadian officials announced late Sunday night that a new deal, named the "U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement," or USMCA, had been reached to replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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No big, beautiful wall after all.

After forcing the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, seeing his poll numbers take a hit and stirring consternation from a broad swath of Republicans, President Trump looks poised to accept a bipartisan deal that would get him just $1.375 billion for new border money, not the $5.7 billion in wall money he was seeking. That’s enough for only 55 miles of new physical barriers, and even less than the $1.6 billion he’d been offered by Democrats in pre-shutdown negotiations.

That’s the latest failing chapter in Trump’s border wall saga — one that’s frustrated Trump’s allies, infuriated GOP moderates, alienated independent voters and left him with almost nothing to show for it.

For more than two years of his presidency, most of it with unified Republican control of the city, Trump promised he’d build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But he walked away at multiple points over the last two years that could have gotten him that deal, refusing to prioritize it or make real concessions to win enough support to pass legislation. He walked away from a Democratic offer in 2017 for $25 billion to fund the entire wall in exchange for protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. He made a more concrete and more hardline proposal in early 2018 that Democrats were never going to be able to stomach. Then he waited until his party lost the House late last year to throw down the gauntlet on the border wall, forcing the longest government shutdown in U.S. history to try to get his way.

After billions of dollars in damage to the U.S. economy, mounting frustration from his own party’s lawmakers and a big hit in his own approval numbers, it appears that Trump will get less for the wall than what he could have gotten if he just took the deal on the table in mid-December.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued to reporters Wednesday morning that it was “disingenuous” and “just not true” to say the new deal would get Trump less of what he wanted than the deal that was on the table in mid-December.

But Republicans of all stripes admit that Trump’s overall approach to building a border wall hasn’t worked out for him or them, with conservatives sniping that Trump is about to agree to a bad deal and more moderate members growing increasingly exasperated with a president who seems to approach major fights without a clear battle plan, as clearly happened during the shutdown.

“I don’t know anybody who’s going to celebrate getting out of a shutdown. Negotiating on the backs of 800,000 Americans, many of whom are on the border and defending our nation, makes absolutely no sense,” Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), a moderate who represents a long stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border and has been critical of Trump’s wall plan.

Earlier on, Hurd called it “frustrating” that Trump and congressional leaders hadn’t been willing or able to negotiate a broader immigration deal that could have gotten the president more of what he wanted in exchange for protections for undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

“Of course it was a missed opportunity last year. It was a missed opportunity this year,” he said.

Daniel Garza, the head of the conservative pro-immigration Libre Initiative, called Trump’s inability to get a deal for the wall in exchange for protections for young undocumented immigrants a “massively missed opportunity,” and called the shutdown “needless.”

Their frustration is matched if not exceeded by the immigration hardliners who helped push Trump into the shutdown in the first place, were frustrated he didn’t force a shutdown on the issue during the spring of 2018 when Republicans still had control of Congress, and feel like he’s betraying them by accepting this deal. Many of them were more eager to blame former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) for being unwilling to take on the fight than Trump, and hesitated to discuss the deal in full since none of them had seen details as of Wednesday. But they made it clear things hadn’t gone well strategically.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a leader in the hardline House Freedom Caucus, called the new agreement a “bad deal” and is pushing with the group for Trump to call for a short-term funding agreement that would let negotiators keep working on a deal.

He didn’t even let a TPM reporter finish a question about what should have been done differently in the last two years to get a better deal.

“The omnibus!” he interjected. “It was obvious. Everybody knows that’s where we should have dealt with this issue. But we didn’t, unfortunately, so we are where we are.”

Mark Krikorian, an influential immigration hawk who heads the Center for Immigration Studies, said the current deal as broadly understood is “probably the best the president was going to be able to expect” at this point. He argued that Democrats had never been serious about a broader compromise earlier in the presidency. And while he didn’t fault Trump for forcing the shutdown, he criticized the Trump administration’s “poorly run legislative operation” for failing to move the ball forward in the two years of unified GOP control, and said the White House “had no plan or strategy” for how to negotiate the shutdown.

Even the president has acknowledged that they should have had this fight a year ago when he signed the omnibus he wasn’t happy with. He blamed Ryan for it … and I think there’s something to that,” Krikorian told TPM.

Conservatives are consoling themselves with Trump’s strong hints that he’ll declare a national emergency on the border in order to try and secure more funds for his wall.

“If the president were to sign this bill based on the contours of what has been reported and suggested as in the bill, and did nothing else, it would be political suicide. If he signed the bill, based on the way that we believed the bill to be, and takes other methods to obtain funding for additional border security measure, than I think there is very little political liability from conservatives,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) said.

But that move is legally questionable and will likely get tied up in court — potentially for the remainder of Trump’s first term as president.

Trump’s net favorability was -9.3 on the day he forced a government shutdown in late December. That number dropped to -14.5 by the time he allowed the government to reopen in late January. It’s since recovered a bit, and past shutdowns’ political effects have been relatively minimal over the long term, but it’s unclear if his already-dismal numbers will bounce back to a place where he can win reelection.

The shutdown permanently cost the U.S. economy $3.6 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. Trump’s poll numbers took a major hit. And all he has to show for it is 55 miles of fencing, with the fate of his long-demanded wall looking bleaker than ever.

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting to this story.

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