Why the border wall could cost Trump his presidency

January 16, 2019 18:37
US President Donald Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency to be able to build the border wall. Photo: Reuters

US President Donald Trump's insistence on building a modern-day version of the Great Wall along America's border with Mexico remains a major bone of contention between the Republicans and the Democrats.

As a result of the standoff, a partial shutdown of the federal government has continued for three weeks with no end in sight.

In an attempt to bypass the House of Representatives now controlled by the Democrats, Trump threatened to declare a national emergency to be able to build the wall, even boasting during his visit to the border in Texas last week that such an action could withstand legal scrutiny "100 percent".

It appears Trump isn’t just bluffing, and is ready to do just that.

According to a Washington Post report, citing people with knowledge of the developments, Trump is planning to tap unused money for disaster spending in this year’s budget for the US Army Corps of Engineers, which Congress approved last year, to build the wall.

Most of the allocation is intended for relief and recovery efforts in Texas and Puerto Rico following Hurricane Harvey.

By insisting on erecting the wall, Trump is painting himself into a corner, and the situation, if left unresolved, could be a major stumbling block in his bid for a second term in the 2020 election.

Worse still, Trump’s intransigent stance is likely to provide more ammunition for other presidential hopefuls to rail against him. 

Among those eyeing his post is 44-year-old Julian Castro, a third-generation immigrant of Mexican descent and a rising star in the Democratic Party who has already declared his intention to run. 

There are three reasons why Castro has become a national sensation ever since he declared his candidacy. 

First, he used to be the secretary of housing and urban development in the Obama administration. 

Second, he is a former mayor of the city of San Antonio in central Texas, which is less than 200 miles away from the US-Mexico border. 

And third, if he wins, he will be the first-ever Latino-American to become president of the United States. 

As a descendant of early Mexican immigrants, Castro apparently can’t be, and won’t be, in favor of both Trump's border wall and immigration policy. 

In a speech announcing his candidacy in San Antonio over the weekend, Castro said: “We say no to building a wall and yes to community, we say no to scapegoating immigrants and yes to dreamers, yes to keeping families together, yes to finally passing comprehensive immigration reform in this country.” 

He said border security is a must, but it can be carried out in “a smart and humane way”. 

Although political pundits cannot as yet estimate the odds of his winning the race, and there is a question mark hanging over whether he can even prevail in the primaries of his own party, his speech is inspiring, particularly when seen in the context of what has been going on in America in recent months. 

We believe Castro has already set the tone for the race, and no matter who is eventually going to become the Democratic presidential candidate, he or she is likely to run against their Republican rival along those lines. 

According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll, only 41 percent of Americans are still in favor of building additional border fencing along the US-Mexico border, down 12 points from a similar poll at the beginning of 2015, while the number of Democrats who are against the plan has doubled. 

The survey also indicates that 51 percent of American adults think that Trump “deserves most of the blame” for the partial federal government shutdown, and only 35 percent favor funding for the wall. 

Moreover, only 25 percent of the respondents support Trump’s decision to insist on seeking congressional approval for wall funding regardless of the government shutdown. 

Clearly, public opinion is turning against Trump in the border wall controversy. 

In the event that Trump does declare a national emergency at a time when the country is neither at war or reeling from a huge natural disaster in order to “embezzle” the disaster relief funding to build the wall, his leadership would be in question, or even come under legal challenge. 

If that scenario happens, Trump will face a lot of difficulty in serving out the rest of his current term, let alone seek a second one. 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 14 

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting 

[Chinese version 中文版

– Contact us at [email protected] 


Hong Kong Economic Journal