President Trump on Monday released his budget proposal for the next fiscal year. Tucked into the suggestions for increased military spending and slashing domestic programs was a request for $8.6 billion for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
This proposal comes less than two months after Trump triggered a government shutdown in a fit of pique after Congress refused to give him $5.7 billion for a border wall in a continuing resolution covering spending for the rest of this fiscal year. The government remained shut down for 35 days, causing enormous financial and emotional hardship for hundreds of thousands of federal employees and even more contractors who lost their jobs and never got them back.
Polls at the time showed that the president and his party got the majority of the blame from the public. In the end, the administration backed down, allowing the government to reopen. Days later, Trump declared a national emergency so he could seize money Congress has appropriated for other uses and redirect it towards border construction. Congress is working on a measure to overturn the declaration, which Trump will likely veto as early as this week.
Conditions have not changed with regard to Congress appropriating money for a wall. Democrats still control the House of Representatives. They are not going to give in to Trump on this. On Sunday, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer released a statement saying exactly that. It remains to be seen how much stomach the Republicans in Congress have for this battle.
But Trump being Trump, he is now picking this fight all over again. With an even larger amount of money.
From the president’s perspective, keeping this argument going must seem rational. The portion of his base that hasn’t given up on the wall (or that doesn’t know that even immigration restrictionists know it is a worthless idea) will likely see him as continuing to fight for one of their priorities. This is an old habit of Trump’s when he hits rough sledding – he says or does something outlandish to draw his base closer to him. Demanding more wall money gets the base geared up going into an election year. Call it an early down payment on the 2020 campaign.
A budget proposal from the president is just that – a proposal. So it is often read a statement of priorities. Trump has just told the country that one of his priorities is continuing this fight, no matter how damaging it is to his party and, perhaps, his own re-election prospects. It is government by temper tantrum from the Executive Branch, and one that, if history is any guide, the president is bound to lose badly.