While rallying supporters in Phoenix last week, President Donald Trump suggested he would veto any government funding bill that did not include money for the southern border wall, a centerpiece of his 2016 platform. Given Democratic opposition to wall spending, this stance promises us a showdown next month that could lead to a partial government shutdown when funding lapses on September 30.
While some Republicans will inevitably argue this is a fight to be avoided, the looming deadline provides Trump his last, best opportunity to keep his promise to voters and implement a sorely needed policy to keep Americans safe.
In light of Trump’s tough rhetoric about deporting illegal immigrants, border crossings are down over 40% this year. In essence, he has built a verbal wall, dissuading many foreigners from trying to cross the border.
Future presidents, however, may not share Trump’s immigration stance. This is why it is critical to build a lasting structure: a wall.
To effectively pressure Democrats to make a down payment on the wall by the end of next month, Trump must do more to convince Americans that the wall is about more than the flow of people across the Southern border — it is also about stopping the flow of drugs into this country.
Moreover, the wall isn’t merely a solution to illegal immigration — it is a border security measure to keep Americans safe.
America is in the midst of a massive opioid crisis ravaging much of the Northeast and industrial Midwest. Nearly 60,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose in 2016, and even more will likely die in 2017. Roughly five times as many Americans annually die of an opioid overdose than are killed in gun-related homicides.
Beyond the human suffering, this crisis may be permanently impairing America’s economic potential, with Janet Yellen arguing it may be a reason for the decline in the labor force participation rate. This is a national crisis without parallel.
While opioid addiction often starts with abusing prescription drugs, millions of Americans eventually turn to heroin, which is a cheaper alternative. According to a State Department report, 94% of heroin entering America comes through the southern border, and usage has more than tripled since 2010. In addition to deadly overdoses, rampant heroin usage, and needle sharing have led to HIV outbreaks in Indiana and elsewhere.
We must do everything we can to end this crisis. That means not only providing support for Americans addicted to opioids and heroin but also stopping the flow of drugs into our communities. Therefore, we must seal the southern border. A wall, combined with more border patrol funding, will do just that.
In order to succeed in getting his wall approved, in the coming days and weeks, Trump must explain how it is an integral aspect of his administration’s comprehensive approach to battling the opioid epidemic, which has been labeled a national emergency.
To drive home this point, Trump should urge Congress pass a “clean” 6-month government funding bill, something Democrats would likely support. The only additions to the funding bill would be about a $2 billion down payment for wall construction and $50 billion to rehabilitate those afflicted with opioid addiction. By tying the two measures together, Trump can show how the wall is about more than illegal immigration — it is about protecting American communities from the ravages of smuggled illegal drugs.
Such a bill can pass the House, leaving Senate Democrats to decide whether they will fund the government or deny opioid-ravaged communities the help they need out of petty spite towards the president. Democratic senators like Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan would be under pressure to support the funding bill given the pain opioids have inflicted on their states.
If Democrats still insist on shutting down the government over wall funding, Trump can use his executive authority to make the shutdown as mild as possible, unlike his predecessor who made the 2013 shutdown unduly painful in order to inflict political harm on Republicans. While Obama closed the World War II memorial, Trump can keep it open. Using all legal flexibility, he can deem “essential” many government employees so that most government services run uninterrupted.
By doing so, Trump can show he is working tirelessly to make government work for citizens during a shutdown despite the obstructionism of recalcitrant Senate Democrats while simultaneously pushing for a multi-faceted solution to the opioid crisis.
Taking this approach, Trump can turn the politics of a government shutdown on its head and maximize the probability of starting construction on a border wall.
Even more important than keeping a political promise is this: If Trump can get a wall funded, he can dramatically slow the amount of heroin flowing into our country, helping bring an end to the opioid crisis.
With an American dying every eight minutes from an opioid overdose, we can delay no longer. Lives are at stake.
Build the wall or shut down the government trying.