Gage Skidmore / Flickr Donald Trump...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The bipartisan committee looking for a resolution on immigration issues in order to avoid another government shutdown hasn’t come back with its proposal, but almost before they began their negotiations, Donald Trump began acting as if they were going to fail. Trump declared the odds of reaching an agreement at “less than fifty-fifty” and called the conference itself “waste of time.” Since then, he’s made a show of preparing to declare a national emergency, frequently bringing up the threat and adding it to his shambling State of the Union address. With the admission of many on the committee that the brief time in which they have to work limits the potential scope of the discussion and statements from Trump pushing back against any kind of “broad” agreement, it may seem that the committee is doomed. The interlude since Trump’s fold on the shutdown seems like just that … an interlude, after which either Trump will misuse the national emergency act or throw the government and the economy back into free fall.

But despite Trump’s statements, the news emerging from inside the committee is that genuine signs of progress are being made, and that a deal is in the works that would see Democrats providing support to some form of barrier in limited areas in exchange for revisions that would reduce some of the horrors generated by Trump’s policy over the last two years.

It’s not clear exactly what Republicans may be offering that would make agreeing to even short sections of additional barrier acceptable, but one thing is clear. As Politico reports Trump … is in trouble. Not “you’re going to jail because of your 1,001 crimes” kind of trouble. That’s coming later. This is more like Trump has dug himself a big hole, and there’s no good way out.

After staging the longest government shutdown on record and finding himself having to fold at its end, Trump is in a position where the support for a repeat performance is limited to Devin Nunes and alternating days of Lindsay Graham. That leaves Trump with just the threat of a national emergency declaration as leverage.

But, as much as Trump may seem to be signaling that he’s willing to make that call, the support for declaring an emergency is simply not there, not even inside the Republican Party. It looks increasingly as if Trump has little alternative but to take whatever comes out of the conference committee and pretend that he won.

Declaring an emergency would allow Trump to steal money from the military to build his wall. But that option is making Republican legislators sweat for several reasons. First, taking the money out of the military budget means just that. The money available to Trump comes from a couple of specific areas of the military budget, one of which is disaster-related funding. None of that is exactly appealing in terms of something Republicans want to defend the next time elections roll around. Even worse, if Trump sets the precedent that the executive can simply declare an emergency every time Congress disagrees with his policies, it’s going to be that much harder to keep a Democratic president from using it to serve her priorities.

Republicans are particularly terrified that the things they’ve been able to keep moving forward for decades, such as sensible actions on gun violence or climate change, could easily become the subjects of emergency declarations. As it turns out, there really was some value in the government shutdown. It taught Trump that, despite his itch to start some Fifth Avenue executions, there really are limits to his power and his support. A second shutdown would be a severe test of his support, even within his own party.

The political reality is that Trump does not have the shutdown available. He does not have the emergency declaration available, not unless he wants to face a rebellion within his own ranks and test whether or not his polls have reached bottom.

What Trump has is … nothing, really. He’ll take what he can get from Chuck and Nancy—he calls her Nancy—and hopefully, that won’t be much.

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