Sputnik: Do you think that Donald Trump's trip to Texas was successful in terms of convincing the opponents of wall building?
Professor Cornell Clayton: No! Both sides are already dug in on this issue and photo ops, like the one yesterday, will have very little impact. But the president's trip was I think less about convincing opponents than it was in shoring up his base and Republicans in Congress. The tell was the fact that he took Sean Hannity of FOX News along and gave him exclusive access. In this regard, the trip might have had some influence. GOP members of Congress are beginning to defect on this issue, and the White House is very concerned. There have a full press on trying to stop GOP members from breaking, and FOX News plays a key role in putting pressure on these members.
Professor Cornell Clayton: "The Wall" is all about symbolism at this point. For Trump, it was his signature campaign promise, one he cannot publicly capitulate on without appearing weak and, in his words, as a "loser". His base (the 30% who consistently back him) would be disillusioned if he did because their support of Trump is less about his policies than about beating Democrats and sticking to liberals (especially "liberal elites" like Nancy Pelosi). Indeed, most GOP members of Congress always thought the border wall idea was absurd as a matter of policy — and a wall would be ineffective and too costly (and many of them said so) — but the debate is not about policy but symbolism, and for them now loyalty in the face of the new Democratic Congress is more important than good policy.
On the other side, Democrats are unwilling to negotiate on wall funding because it is symbolic for them as well. Their base wants a Congress that will check Trump and deny him any political oxygen. Thus, even though many Democrats in the past supported funding some kinds of border fencing or barriers, they are now unwilling to budge at all on this issue because it would appear to be giving into Trump and his petulance.
Sputnik: Is there a firm consensus in American society about the need for the wall on the Mexico border?
Professor Cornell Clayton: Most opinion polls have consistently shown that a plurality or majority of Americans do not want a physical border wall and see it as unnecessary (much depends on how you ask the question). But, again, policy views around this issue are often driven by negative partisanship. Polls overwhelmingly show American want a secure border. Most think some forms of physical barrier is part of that. Very, very few want a concrete wall across the whole border.
Sputnik: How likely is Trump to declare a national emergency? What would happen if he does?
Professor Cornell Clayton: The longer the shutdown continues, the more likely he will. It is his only face-saving off-ramp from the shutdown at this point. For reasons I already discussed (above) he is politically unable to compromise with Democrats at this point. The opportunity for a grand-bargain — wall funding for a DACA fix — seems as of yesterday to be off the table, as VP Pence said Trump does not want to move on DACA until the Supreme Court decides the pending case involving its constitutionality. So I would say it is far more likely than not that the President will go down the emergency path to end the impasse.
So the next step would be litigation. The president emergency declaration would be immediately challenged in court on the grounds that there is no genuine emergency. But even after declaring an emergency, the president has to point to other statutes authorizing the use of emergency funding to build a wall (i.e. reprogramming funding that is intended for other purposes), once the administration does that, that would also be challenged in courts as a violation of those statutes as well. So, we are looking at a lot of litigation. My guess is that there would be a court willing to issue an injunction against any move toward redirecting funding toward a wall and that litigation would preclude any wall building until the issue works its way through the courts up to the Supreme Court — which would take months or years!
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.