The shutdown continues because both sides think they are winning.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is maintaining a strong front by steadfastly opposing any money for President Donald Trump's border wall, which she called a "waste of money" and an "immorality." Meanwhile, a national Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in the first week of January found most Americans blame Trump for the shutdown instead of congressional Democrats. And Pelosi seems to believe that if her party and most of the American people are behind her, she can continue holding her ground without facing political ramifications.
Trump, on the other hand, also believes he's winning, since he feels Democrats are overplaying their hand by refusing to acknowledge the serious problems at our southern border. Trump might be right, as one survey conducted by Politico and Morning Consult found 79% of voters believing there to be either a "crisis" or a "problem" on the border. Only 12% said there is neither a crisis or a problem on the border. Even though voters are blaming Trump for the shutdown, a large majority of Americans are likely sympathetic to Trump when it comes to calls for increased border security.
What's easy to forget is that Democrats supported a barrier at the US-Mexico border back in 2006, when Senators Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (along with several other current legislators) voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act, which called for 700 miles of the border to be covered by double-tier fencing.
"The bill before us will certainly do some good," Obama said at the time, claiming the double-tier fence would "help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country." Democrats seemed to think barriers were a good idea before Trump adopted them as his signature policy. And barriers do work, according to some of the folks who actually guard America's southern border.
But Democrats have dug their heels in when it comes to Trump's wall. This opposition may come at a cost, as some GOP strategists think Democrats are hurting their chances of making inroads in middle America by declaring their opposition to Trump's border security measures.
The president and his party are also facing plenty of political traps ahead. As Trump considers declaring a national emergency to build his wall without congressional approval, some conservatives worry that decision will open Pandora's Box. On Friday night, Trump said that if Congress fails to act, "I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right to do it."
Some congressional Republicans are nervous about this, even as they acknowledge all legislative efforts to break the logjam have failed. It might be that an emergency declaration is Trump's only way out.
But what would happen? Trump's plan would likely face lawsuits and potentially spark an override vote. The law under which Trump would declare the national emergency allows Congress to overrule the President, and Pelosi would almost certainly have the votes to do it.
Senate Republican leaders would not be able to ignore it, as it would be a privileged item demanding immediate floor action. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have no choice but to open debate and then hold a vote in which a simple majority is all that would be needed to embarrass the President. McConnell would rather spend valuable floor time on things like confirming the President's judges instead of debating something the President would ultimately veto anyway.
Conservatives are also worried about the precedent an emergency declaration would set. Someday, a liberal president could declare national emergencies allowing for a Green New Deal, gun confiscation, Medicare for All, compulsory voting, and other far left policies that would cause conservative heads to explode. Who wants President Ocasio-Cortez in their garage confiscating their pickup truck and shotgun? Not I.
As this stalemate wears on, I can't help but think of the Kenny Rogers hit song "The Gambler." Both Trump and Pelosi have decided not to "walk away" from what they perceive to be a winning hand. But as the tune goes, "every hand's a winner, and every hand's a loser, and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep."