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Politics In The News: Partial Government Shutdown


It is Day 17 of a partial government shutdown. Today talks are going to continue between congressional leaders and White House officials, but President Trump is sticking to his demand for border wall funding. He did, however, signal a possible change when he talked to reporters after getting off Marine One at the White House.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The barrier or the wall could be of steel instead of concrete, if that helps people. It may be better.

KING: Steel or concrete, our next guest says it's naive to reduce this fight to a border wall, that it's become instead a fight about symbols. Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg is with us now. He's the senior editor of the National Review. Jonah, thanks for coming in this morning.

JONAH GOLDBERG: It's always great to be here.

KING: So sometimes a wall is just a wall, or a wall is not just a wall. What are you arguing?

GOLDBERG: Well, part of my argument is just simply that for both sides it's become a zero-sum thing. If Trump wins, Democrats feel like they've lost, and vice versa, which is sort of emblematic of our politics generally these days. But it's very difficult to compromise on something symbolic, right? You know, we'll just make the Confederate flag a little smaller is not something that the other side is going to buy into. And for Donald Trump and his biggest supporters, the wall is symbolic of his presidency. It's symbolic of the reason why he was elected. And if he backs down on that, it's basically a major cave of the whole sort of MAGA agenda. And we heard Nancy Pelosi saying the wall is an immorality. Right?

KING: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: Right. So her position - which is understandable, given where the Democratic base is - is not 1 inch, not $1 for this. And so when I say it's symbolic, I'm not trying to minimize it. It's that people are now investing elements of this sort of identity and their worldview into this fight. I also think one of the things that's driving this dynamic is that Donald Trump is more in a re-election mode right now than he is in an actual negotiating mode. He needs to show his base that he fought for this wall really, really hard, even if he eventually caves. I don't - I still can't quite get my head around this, you know, this compromise about making the wall out of steel. (Laughter).

KING: I'm not sure anyone can at this point.

GOLDBERG: I mean, I haven't found the constituency was the demanding that we change the building material as the solution to any of this. But I think this will probably go on for quite a while yet.

KING: You've written that you know some conservative border security advocates who would really like other policies - better verification of visas, for example - instead of, you know, a physical wall. Why haven't visas become one of these big symbols?

GOLDBERG: Well, again, that's sort of the dilemma. There are plenty people on the left who would gladly take a docket deal, right? You know, legalize the DREAMers, bring them all in, in exchange for $5 billion of wall funding. There are plenty people on the right who would love to get E-Verify and all these kinds of things. There are public policy compromises to be done here. The problem is, is that we are now on the role of sort of metaphysics and symbolism that says - you know, I've mentioned this on the show before. You know, my favorite New Yorker cartoon has one dog drinking martinis with another dog, and he says, you know, it's not good enough that dogs succeed. Cats must also fail. And...

KING: That's where we're at, you think?

GOLDBERG: That is where we're at on this issue. Nancy Pelosi trying very, very hard to not have the Democrats go in guns a-blazing for impeachment. And if the base is there demanding blood and if she caves on the wall, that probably heightens the contradictions, or it makes it more difficult for her to hold the base at bay. And on the Republican side, Mitch McConnell is running for re-election in 2020. Donald Trump is popular in his state, and he doesn't want to play this game where he negotiates knowing that Trump is eventually going to do whatever he's going to do. So I just think it's going to drag on for quite a while.

KING: The president has gone on Twitter a lot lately to try to drum up support for the wall. CNBC looked into this, and they found that his tweets concerning the border skyrocketed in the month of December. And a lot of people seemed to like them. On December 30, one of his tweets got nearly a quarter of a million likes. Do you think that response, that popular response, is making him more comfortable with - in sticking with this decision, even as hundreds of thousands of federal workers say, you know, hey, man, I can't pay my rent, maybe, next month.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I mean, it was the most likes on Twitter since James Madison, I think.

KING: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: Absolutely. Look, he's also in a bit of an echo chamber on the right. One of the reasons why he backed out of the budget deal in the first place was because Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and various figures on the right said, you cannot buckle on this wall issue. And he lives in that bubble. Those are the people he talks to. One of the things that concerns me greatly as a conservative is, he's talking to people, and you hear - I was listening to people on "Fox And Friends" this morning talking - where I'm a contributor at Fox - talking about how he should just go ahead and declare a state of emergency and build this thing with this military eminent domain stuff.

As a limited government conservative, depending on how he did that, that strikes me as an impeachable act. Harry Truman couldn't get away - shouldn't have gotten away with nationalizing the steel industry during war. The idea that presidents can now start unilaterally preempting Congress entirely would be an outrage under any other president for conservatives, and it should be one under him, as well.

KING: Sounds like it's worth talking to some lawyers. Jonah Goldberg is a conservative commentator and senior editor at the National Review. Jonah, thanks so much.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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