How Schumer united Dems against Trump’s wall

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How Schumer united Dems against Trump’s wall




Chuck Schumer

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called his members on the phone and buttonholed them in his office — eager to see where they stood on the president’s $5 billion border wall request. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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Senate Democrats are emboldened after the midterm elections and Trump’s vow to own any government shutdown.

The midterm election results had barely finished trickling in when Chuck Schumer began preparing for a head-on collision with President Donald Trump over the border wall.

The Senate minority leader called his members on the phone and buttonholed them in his office — eager to see where they stood on the president’s $5 billion border wall request, according to a person familiar with his interactions.

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Several moderate Democrats had previously endorsed or considered supporting the funding, but after the midterms, the whip count was clear. There aren’t even close to nine Democrats who would join Republicans to break a filibuster.

The bottom line? Mexico isn’t paying for the border wall, and neither is Congress — even if there’s a Christmastime shutdown.

“You can break arms and do things like that, I don’t think the votes are here,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Even ousted Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said in an interview he wasn’t wedded to the $5 billion wall proposal after endorsing it during his reelection campaign.

The Democratic unity is already having its desired effect: After digging in on Tuesday in a remarkable back and forth with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a televised Oval Office debate, Trump is actively considering ways out of the wall fight to avoid a partial shutdown next Friday.

GOP and White House officials have continued the battle, running old clips of Schumer, President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton calling for stronger border security.

But that footage doesn’t reflect today’s Senate Democratic Caucus and its rapid shift left even since the midterms, when House Democrats took the majority and Schumer stopped worrying about protecting his most vulnerable red-state incumbents. Simply put, there’s now very little incentive for Schumer or anyone in his conference to compromise with Trump, and even past olive branches are now being snapped.

Schumer has shifted away from the Senate’s bipartisan bill that would provide $1.6 billion in fencing on the border, reasoning that the legislation can’t pass the House, where Republicans still rule for two more weeks. Schumer is now offering Trump spending at current levels for border fencing, about $1.3 billion, and nothing more.

Trump repeatedly predicted to Pelosi and Schumer that House Republicans could pass a border funding bill, but griped about the Senate. Then he took ownership of any impending shutdown, saying it was worth the border wall fight.

The results made Schumer’s caucus almost giddy.

“They completely handed him his head. He better get used to it because that’s what it’s going to be like now. He’s going to get fact-checked to his face,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “He’s not going to have congressional leaders or Cabinet people around him like bobble heads saying yes to everything.”

Schumer has long been respected by Republicans for being a pragmatic deal-maker when he needs to be, the same reputation that has earned him some criticism from the left. But despite outside liberal groups criticizing Schumer for cutting deals with Republicans on judges, his early handling of the border wall fight and allowing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin to become the top Democrat on the Energy Committee, those complaints have never emanated from within the Democratic Caucus.

In fact, Schumer seems to have a tighter grip than ever. Even Kyrsten Sinema, who won Arizona’s Senate race on a platform of opposing Schumer as leader, offered no dissent during the party’s leadership elections.

“I know of no criticism. No hint of any dissension,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

And now that Democrats’ electoral fortunes are on the rise, the GOP is beginning to see Schumer as unreasonable.

“He’s reacting to his caucus. And to their political base which is basically anything Trump wants, they’re opposed to,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who works out alongside Schumer in the Senate gym. “He can be, but it doesn’t sound so far like he’s being pragmatic about this.”

Schumer’s stance has also made House Republicans, who just lost their majority, less motivated to meet the president’s demands. Passing a $5 billion wall funding bill to try to pressure Democrats would just be a messaging exercise at this point, one that would be even less effective than usual given Trump’s willingness to embrace blame for a shutdown.

“Whether you pass it or not there’s no reason to believe that it’s going to move in the United States Senate,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

Trump has also shown little appetite to make a bipartisan compromise on immigration. He turned down a chance to get $25 billion for his border wall earlier this year after an extensive back and forth with Schumer and other senators. He later lobbied against a bill providing deportation protections for young undocumented immigrants and $25 billion in border wall funding because he wanted cuts to legal immigration as well.

That bipartisan bill might get just a handful of votes in today’s Senate. And most Democrats say they don’t want to negotiate on immigration until the spending bill is finalized.

“The position has hardened,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), whose effort attracted the support of 46 of 49 Democratic Caucus members. Today, he says, “I don’t know if we’d get any.”

The border funding question is so touchy that some Democrats have a hard time just giving him border security at current spending levels.

“I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good. But certainly standing up to this president, who keeps putting forth things that are ridiculous and frankly not good for border security and not good for taxpayers’ money, is a very natural place to be for my state,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

Any filibuster threat from Democrats may have little risk now that Trump has said he would be “proud” to own a potential shutdown. Earlier this year, Senate Democrats blocked a government funding bill and caused a brief shutdown over demands for an immigration debate — a stumble that produced a debate, but no law, and which Trump says Schumer got “killed” over.

But this time, even if congressional Republicans try to blame Schumer’s caucus for intransigence, the president has already contradicted them live on television.

“We were wondering if the president would accept responsibility for this shutdown,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “But what he said publicly at that meeting became a matter of record.”

James Arkin and Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.

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