Even before the Democratic Party won majority control of the House of Representatives, it wasn’t clear how Donald Trump was going to be able to get his border wall through Congress, which must approve the funding for it. Senate rules make it possible to block big budget outlays—like $25 billion for a wall—if 60 senators don’t first allow a vote to proceed. The Senate’s Republicans were (and still are) well short of that “filibuster-proof majority,” and Trump had been threatening to shut down the government to try to break the inevitable logjam of opposition.
His bargaining position just got far weaker. With the result of Tuesday’s midterm elections, Trump’s border wall has hit a wall of its own. With a Democratic majority, there is no way that a piece of legislation with border-wall money can pass the House of Representatives. Full stop.
Democrats will now write the first draft of all funding legislation. The Homeland Security appropriations bill will be drafted by a subcommittee headed by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, who strongly opposes Trump’s wall. “I am acutely aware of America’s security funding priorities,” she said in January. “We will not address our security needs by building this wall.” In July 2017, when the appropriations subcommittee that she will now preside met to approve the 2018 Homeland Security budget bill, Rep. Roybal-Allard introduced an amendment that would have cut Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Assets and Infrastructure funding by $1,571,239,000—the exact cost of the border wall—and to use it for other purposes. The amendment failed by a party-line vote of 22 to 30.
Democrats will also decide ahead of time which bills and amendments may be considered on the floor of the House of Representatives. Because there are so many representatives, the House has a Rules Committee that acts as a gatekeeper. It meets before any major legislation comes to the House floor, to decide which bills and amendments will be “in order”—that is, permitted to be considered—during the next day’s debate. Republicans have used the Rules Committee to prevent much legislation and amendments from coming to the floor, ruling it “out of order.” As of January, though, this powerful committee will be chaired by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), a longtime advocate of human rights in Latin America.
It is very hard to imagine a scenario in which President Trump gets his border wall through this House of Representatives. And if it doesn’t get through the House, it doesn’t get through Congress, and it doesn’t get funded.
Unless: if the president really wants his border wall, Democrats might be open to a deal if it includes big concessions to their agenda. President Trump would have to give the Democratic Party something very big to win their approval for his wall. That “something” would probably have to do with immigration policy.
In 2017, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) reportedly offered not to filibuster a package of border-wall money if the White House and Senate Republicans supported legislation allowing “Dreamers” to stay in the United States. That deal fell through, and now that judicial decisions have preserved Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for now, the Democrats would probably demand much more for border-wall funding. Their demands would probably extend to preserving access to asylum, strict limits on family detention and separation, non-deportation of migrants with Temporary Protected Status, reforms to CBP and ICE, and probably other demands that strike at the heart of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller’s anti-immigrant crusade.
If the White House isn’t willing to concede a lot on immigration—and after the over-the-top campaign rhetoric we’ve just heard, it probably isn’t—then Trump’s border wall is dead and done with. We are now “beyond the wall.”