Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.
And yet, 19 days into what’s become the country’s second-longest government shutdown, there’s no compromise in sight, and no additional negotiations scheduled.
The problem, of course, is politics. The shutdown hinges on a border wall battle that’s become about so much more than a wall. In many ways, President Trump’s fight for his “big, beautiful wall” is a metaphor for the current politics of Washington.
You have a broadly unpopular Republican president, already operating under a cloud of investigations, obsessed with keeping his promises to his supporters ahead of what’s expected to be a tough re-election race. And you have a Democratic opposition equally driven by their voters to oppose him at every turn.
Those politics are the undercurrent for all the talks about the shutdown, and they’re fundamentally at odds with each other. And each sides sees political benefit to holding out and resisting any sort of compromise.
Here’s what Democrats see:
• Midterm wins. Democrats won control of the House despite efforts by the president to turn the final weeks of the campaign into a referendum on undocumented immigrants. Mr. Trump couldn’t get his wall funded when he controlled both houses of Congress. Why should they give now, Democrats argue, if his own party wouldn’t?
• The base. Yes, some Democrats have backed border fencing in the past. But Mr. Trump’s hard-line policies, which Democrats see as racist and xenophobic, have pushed the party to the left. And it’s harder to cut deals when the debate becomes about morality.
• The dealmaker has no clothes. Storming out a meeting after saying “bye-bye” isn’t a good look for any president, Democrats believe, but particularly one who ran on his ability to negotiate. The broader impact of the shutdown cuts through the theatrics the president typically uses to get out of tricky situations.
• Jumpy Republicans. On Wednesday night, eight House Republicans broke with the president and voted for a Democratic bill that would reopen the Treasury Department. At least four G.O.P. Senators have expressed some support for reopening the government. The most jittery of all? Republicans up for re-election in purple states.
What the White House sees:
• The other base. Mr. Trump measures his political success by whether he keeps his supporters happy. That’s part of why he rejected a deal on the shutdown negotiated by his own aides and G.O.P. leaders after conservatives voiced opposition. And his base wants that wall.
• Mueller? Mueller? The constant focus on the shutdown provides Mr. Trump and the White House with a break from the story line that really makes them nervous: the special counsel investigation.
What Republicans see:
• Opposition to Mr. Trump never pays. There are 19 Senate Republicans up for re-election next year in red states. A lesson many took away from the president’s support of primary challengers during 2018 midterms was that Republican establishment doesn’t win by contradicting Mr. Trump.
• A longer timeline. The decisions by the White House to pay out food stamps through February and process tax refunds means Republicans have a bit more breathing room. Particularly in poorer districts, extending these programs provides essential cash infusions to large parts of their voting base.
• The elusive deal. Senate Republicans have grown increasingly aggravated with the lack of clarity from the White House, leaving them unsure about whether Mr. Trump would even sign a deal they managed to cut with Democrats. That’s part of why the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has kept his distance from the talks. “It’s always difficult,” Senator John Cornyn told The Washington Post, “when the person you’re negotiating with is someone who changes his mind.”
But don’t forget this:
Elections are not won or lost on shutdowns.
In 1995 and 1996, Americans blamed the Republican Congress for shutdowns. The party held onto its majorities in the 1996 election. In 2013, Americans once again blamed Republicans for the shutdown. In the midterms that followed the next year, the party gained seats in the House and won back the Senate.
Have you been personally affected by the shutdown? Tell us about it: OnPolitics@nytimes.com. Our inbox is always open!
Fact check: Trump and the border
After a day of fruitless negotiations over the wall, President Trump traveled to a border town in Texas today to make his case. We decided to check in with Linda Qiu, The Times’s fact checker, and test the veracity of some of the president’s recent talk about the border.
Lisa: In his prime-time address on Tuesday, the president said the southern border was at a crisis point. What do you make of that? Have things gotten considerably worse down there?
Linda: Mr. Trump said the word “crisis” six times in that nine-minute address! But there’s not really a good case for a border crisis. Illegal border crossings have been declining for about two decades. I’ll bore you with some numbers now: From the 1980s to mid-2000s, apprehensions at the southwest border were between 1 million and 1.6 million annually. Last year, the number was just under 400,000. Now, there has been an uptick in monthly crossings in October and November, to about 50,000 apprehensions each month. But compare that to 2000, when the monthly number was between 70,000 and 220,000.
It’s also interesting to me that Mr. Trump has sort of stopped trying to use data to support his arguments. Instead, he’s talking more about “Angel Families” — people whose loved ones were killed by undocumented immigrants — as he did in the speech on Tuesday night and during a round-table today. (And some of these families really appreciate the president advocating on their behalf!) But certainly, it’s more beneficial for him to highlight these specific tragedies than talk about the body of research that shows that immigration does not lead to more crime, and that immigrants are actually less like to commit crimes than native-born Americans.
So at the end of the day, it’s an emotional appeal, rather than a statistical or empirical argument about any “crisis.”
Lisa: The appeal to emotions reminds me of the migrant caravan, which the president helped turn into a national story ahead of the midterm elections. What happened to the caravan? Did the migrants ever come to the U.S.?
Linda: Some migrants certainly did try. Remember that televised clash in late November? Hundreds of migrants attempted to run toward a border crossing in San Diego, and Customs and Border Protection closed the border and fired tear gas into the crowd. Our colleagues who have been traveling with the caravan also reported in December that about 2,000 have made appointments with immigration officials to petition for asylum — which is perfectly legal — and they’re facing long waiting times. A lot of migrants have also decided to just stay in Mexico for the time being. And some have attempted to cross the border illegally.
Now that Washington is at an impasse over the president’s border wall, Mr. Trump has been talking caravans again. This time he’s warning of a new caravan forming in Honduras. And I imagine this won’t be the last time we hear him talking ominously about groups of migrants coming to the southern border.
For more, check out Linda’s Fact-Check of the Day. Today’s topic: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech in Cairo.
Harris takes the stage
Our colleague Astead Herndon, who covers national politics, sent us this update today on the latest from a big-name 2020 hopeful.
Senator Kamala Harris continues to ready her likely presidential campaign, and this week came with significant clues on what to expect from the California Democrat as she prepares for the national circuit.
Ms. Harris held several media appearances as she hawked her pointedly timed new book, “The Truths We Hold,” including guest spots on Good Morning America, The View and several late night talk shows. The message: She’s a unifier in a time of deep polarization and division.
“We’re at an inflection moment, not only in the history of our country but the history of our world,” Ms. Harris said on ABC’s Good Morning America. “There are a lot of people who rightly feel displaced. They are wondering: Where do they belong? Are they relevant? Are they seen? Are we thinking about them?”
“We need leadership has a vision of the future in which everyone can see themselves,” she said.
Though Ms. Harris is expected to announce her presidential candidacy in the coming weeks, a source close to the senator said there’s no imminent plans on when that will happen. Ms. Harris will be in New York City Friday, for a book event at the famed 92nd Street Y on the Upper West Side.
This week she also tweeted a call for nationalized legal marijuana and said incarcerated persons who were convicted on nonviolent marijuana-related charges should have their records expunged.
Ms. Harris has, at times, come under fire from social justice activists who say her tenure as California attorney general did not match her progressive rhetoric. It is one of several challenges facing Ms. Harris’s candidacy, which will be one of the first viable campaigns for president launched by a nonwhite woman.
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What to read tonight
• Scientists have found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster than a U.N. panel estimated five years ago, and that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.
• Video games as a varsity sport? At a number of high schools and colleges, there are leagues, practice, spectators — even scholarships.
• Her fiancé helped orchestrate the raid on Osama bin Laden. He received a Purple Heart. He thwarted a bioterrorism attack in New York City. Or did he? The title of this piece in Marie Claire says it all: “I Almost Married a Con Man.”
Beto O’Rourke made history on Wednesday night when he became the first political candidate to live-stream from the dentist’s chair.
We know, he’s not exactly a candidate. (Don’t tell the Draft Beto people!)
Since he lost the Senate race, Instagram followers have seen Mr. O’Rourke eating guac while driving, cutting flank steak, building an igloo (it was New Year’s Eve!) and hiking with his family.
But a dental cleaning? It’s a fine line between authentic and too much, y’all.
(Mr. O’Rourke’s spokesman said the video was part of his effort to showcase “everyday stories from the border.” While in the chair he interviewed his dental hygienist, whose mother was an immigrant.)
No word on whether he had cavities — though perhaps a super-zoom filter could help answer that question.
Fact-check illustration by Tim Lahan.
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