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Trump is playing chicken with Democrats over border wall funding

As Donald Trump’s administration scrambles to notch a significant legislative victory before the 100-day mark next week, Democrats find themselves in the unusual position of holding all the cards in the negotiations.

Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, went public Friday to the Associated Press with the White House’s demands for a spending bill to be voted on next week to keep the government open: “We want wall funding. We want [immigration] agents. Those are our priorities.”


But passing the bill will require 60 votes in the Senate, and Republicans currently have only 52.

Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has made it clear that funding Trump’s border wall with Mexico is a line in the sand for Democrats and that they won’t support any bill with money for it, setting up a high-stakes game of chicken over funding the federal government.

And the Trump administration seems to be missing the one thing a self-styled dealmaker president needs most: leverage.

Without a spending bill next week, the government will shut down on Friday, April 28, which will be day 99 of the Trump presidency. With Republicans controlling of all three branches of government, voters will blame them for any shutdown, Democrats are betting. And given the president’s historically low approval ratings at this early point in his presidency, many congressional Republicans suspect Democrats may be right.

As a result, Trump has been scraping around for a bargaining chip to use in the delicate negotiations. He and his administration have repeatedly suggested scrapping Obamacare’s annual $7 billion in insurance premium subsidies that go to low-income people, but Democrats have publicly been unmoved, confident that Trump again would be blamed for throwing the insurance market into turmoil.

Some look to a Kaiser Health tracking poll earlier this month that had 61 percent of respondents saying “President Trump and Republicans in Congress are now in control of the government and they are responsible for any problems with [Obamacare] moving forward.”

Mulvaney told the AP that border wall funding ought to be included in the budget because “elections have consequences” and Democrats “lost the election.”

But in a conference call with fellow Democrats Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was unimpressed, saying, “We have the leverage and they have the exposure.”

It appears so.

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