“No Wall Money in Government Funding Legistation: Eliminating the Possibility of Genuine Negotiation

 To invite someone to have respectful conversation with you about your disagreements while stipulating what the results of your conversation must be eliminates the possibility of a genuine conversation. As I never tire of saying, “one cannot predict beforehand the results of a respectful conversation.”

As I heard recently on national news, that charade has happened once again relative to the current bipartisan conference committee negotiations regarding immigration. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi laid down a pre-condition for negotiations: “No wall money in government funding legislation.” If the conference committee negotiations, which have barely begun, are to be genuine, Speaker Pelosi should not stipulate up-front what must come out of those negotiations.

As also reported in the media, Speaker Pelosi did appear to cut the committee some slack by expressing openness to some type of “physical barrier.” Is the disagreement then semantic; hinging on a possible distinction between a “wall” and some other type of “physical barrier?” If so, the conference committee should be given the opportunity to sort out that apparent distinction.

President Trump is not to be spared from my concern about setting pre-conditions that eliminate the possibility of genuine negotiation. Later in the day when the two media reports noted above came out, President Trump changed his earlier view that the “wall” could be some other sort of “barrier” to a stronger assertion that “a wall is a wall” and any negotiations that do not acknowledge that are a “waste of time.” If that is now a pre-condition for him signing the legislation that emerges from the bipartisan conference committee, that also eliminates genuine conversation about an important aspect of what the committee should be talking about.

In brief, we can’t know beforehand what genuine negotiation within the conference committee will yield and no one should set pre-conditions on what can and cannot emerge.

But each of us can hope. As I hint at in my Musing of January 25 (“Starting with a Political Non-Starter”), here is what I hope results from these current negotiations: a “big” piece of legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers; an extension of Temporary Status Protection (TPS) for those seeking asylum from horrendous conditions in their home countries; and some beefed-up border security measures, including greater use of technology, more personnel at the borders and, yes, some more “physical barriers” in selected “priority areas” that may even include some type of “wall.”

A common response to the hope that I express above is that it is unlikely that the conference committee can agree on such a “big” piece of legislation. Therefore, the committee should be encouraged to seek agreement only on improved border security measures. If that can be accomplished, then broader issues involving the Dreamers and TPS can be addressed later. My concern with that sequential approach is that if agreement is reached only about border security measures, there will not be adequate political incentive to address these broader issues. Besides, part to what such broader bipartisan negotiations may yield are “trade-offs” relative to this multiplicity of related issues.

Speaker Pelosi and President Trump can also express their hopes as to what emerges from the conference committee negotiations. But to impose those hopes on the committee violates a proper separation of powers and a proper understanding of the role of Congress. Neither I, nor Speaker Pelosi, nor President Trump, nor anyone else should stipulate up-front what the results of such negotiation must be. To do so eliminates the possibility of genuine negotiation.