It's hard to tell what is and isn't a policy directive now that President Trump is in charge. But his recent threat to shut down the government unless Congress appropriates money for the border wall seems like a serious one. In order to do this, Senate and House Republicans will have to unite their caucus to not only pass a spending bill, but raise the federal debt ceiling in order to make those spending bills possible.
In this case, rank and file Republicans remain just as unlikely to support raising the debt ceiling. As bad as a government shutdown is, failure to raise the debt ceiling is even worse, and could cause massive panic in the world markets and jeopardizing billions of dollars in invests. Senator McConnell (R-KY) has assured Americans that there is no chance the debt ceiling will not be raised. But I've learned not to trust Mitch McConnell too much, so I remain skeptical.
The problem isn't that Congress can't pass a funding bill, it's that Congress likely can't pass a funding bill that includes money for a border wall. If Congress passes a short term spending bill, or even a budget, but neglects to include money for the President's multi-billion dollar pipe dream, President Trump can refuse to sign that funding bill, which means the government would not have money, and would have to shut down.
Of course, there are other options. Republicans can pass a short term funding bill and promise to debate funding for the border wall at another time. Republicans can get rid of the legislative filibuster, removing the cloture vote, and allowing any spending bill to come to the floor with a 51 vote majority. Or they can persuade Democrats to vote to build a wall.
The first option depends on Trump being an adult and allowing the government to continue even though he didn't get what he wanted. I agree, that is pretty unlikely.
The second option would depend on a radical shift in legislative procedures, and around 24 Republican Senators to go back on a request they made in April to keep the legislative filibuster safe. This could happen, but I hope the rules of order in the Senate aren't changed that dramatically over a border wall.
And finally, the third option would depend on Democrats being convinced that a border wall isn't the dumbest solution to border security that's ever been put forward.
Building a wall across the Southern border absurdly expensive. Even though Trump's estimates have been around $10 billion, a leaked report from the Department of Homeland Security puts the costs closer to $21.6 billion. A Democratic report put costs closer to $70 billion, not including legal fees and land acquisition, but given the partisan nature of this debate, this estimate may be a little high.
If you take the Department of Homeland Security's word for it, the wall is still over 20 billion dollars, which is a lot of money to spend on an ineffective remedy for illegal immigration. Even Republicans agree that a one-size-fits-all solution for the Southern border is not the way to go. The Southern border of this country is close to 2,000 miles long, and spans four states. And what makes effective border security in El Paso, Texas is really different than what makes effective border security in the New Mexico desert.
Not to mention the fact that there is a big river (literally, Rio Grande) at the border that would make construction of a wall difficult, as any wall would have to be built on the river's floodplain. As if that wasn't enough of a deterrent, some people own land on the border, which would mean the wall would have to be built on their property, or the government would have to spend even more money buying up their land.
In addition, the current border wall, which covers close to 700 miles of the Southern border was breached close to 10,000 times in five years. The wall that this country already has isn't working, what is to make anyone think that a bigger wall will solve anything?
This is mostly because, as has been said before, if you build a 50 foot wall, someone will build a 51 foot ladder, or dig a tunnel. Or, they will obtain a valid visa, and overstay it, which is how most undocumented immigrants first arrived in the country. In fact, close to two-thirds of undocumented immigrants once had a visa and proper documentation, which they overstayed. Building a big wall will not actually stop anyone from immigrating to this country.
I come from hearty immigrant stock, and I know that if the government had put some arbitrary quota, preventing lots of Italians and Germans from immigrating to the United States, say in 1924, my family still would have found a way to get to this country. If they were rejected once, they would have tried again, and again, and again, until they came to the country where they felt they could make a better life for their descendants. There's no difference between my family, and people who want to immigrate from Mexico and Central America. And that's why I know, without a doubt, that a wall will not stop anyone, because wouldn't have stopped my great-grandparents.