House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, of Jefferson Parish, applauded President Donald Trump for signing the new funding bill that averts a second government shutdown in as many months.
Which is kind of funny, given that none of his fellow GOP House members from Louisiana saw fit to vote for the conference committee agreement that grants Trump a relatively scant $1.375 billion to build 55 miles of some sort of barrier along the 2,000-mile U.S./Mexico border.
That’s far short of the $5.7 billion Trump demanded as a condition of keeping the government open the last time around. Scalise still declared it a victory, though, and crowed that Republicans had “forced” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to abandon her pledge that not one dollar would go to the wall. He also called the agreement a “big step” toward keeping the part of Trump’s campaign promise about building it — the part about Mexico paying have been long since abandoned.
Other Louisiana Republicans in the House begged to differ.
All four of them voted “no.” Mike Johnson, R-Benton, and Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, complained that the measure failed to provide enough resources for border protection. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, criticized a provision that bars the allocated money from being used to go after sponsors of unaccompanied children. And both Higgins and Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, cheered the president’s decision to declare a national emergency even as he signed the bill.
Scalise wasn’t the only outwardly enthusiastic Republican representing the state. U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy voted “yes” and weighed in too.
“Nancy Pelosi said she wouldn’t give a dollar, but this bill includes billions for border security,” Cassidy misleadingly wrote (Pelosi’s comment was about the wall, not about other types of border security). Cassidy also predicted that “liberal activist judges will no doubt try to stop the president’s national emergency declaration,” which sure suggests he’s fine with that controversial move.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy also supported the bill, but his office spent much of the day issuing unrelated news releases.
It goes without saying that this is anything but a unified front.
The key factor for the White House, of course, is whether it would be able to frame the bill as anything but a loss. Scalise and Cassidy’s attempts to help aside, the other Louisiana congressmen are right that it’s exactly that.
Yet that’s the way this all works. Trump couldn’t get Congress to give him his wall when both houses were controlled by friendly Republicans. He’s sure not going to get it with Democrats in charge of the House, not when he’s used it as a symbol of his administration’s hostility toward immigrants, even those seeking asylum.
His emergency declaration isn’t going to get him what he wants either. Border crossings are down from historic highs, and most drugs come in through ports of entry. The courts are likely to frown on the idea that this is any sort of emergency, let alone one that allows the president to circumvent Congress’s clearly expressed spending decisions.
And that’s not even getting into whether giving the government leeway to seize private land, which it would need to do to build the barrier, is anything like a conservative idea. Sorry, Sen. Cassidy, it’s not just “liberal activist judges” who are sure to have a problem with this.
As for Trump’s allies in the Louisiana delegation, let’s be clear about where this adventure positions them.
By backing the compromise, Scalise, Cassidy, and Kennedy, along with U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, were the relative voices of reason.
The four House holdouts might have acted differently had their votes been needed to keep the government running. Still, each one chose to cast a vote that essentially supported a deeply damaging second shutdown.
And by signaling support for the emergency declaration, Abraham, Higgins and Cassidy all said that they’re willing to cede Congress’s authority to the president — and also that they’re OK with Trump’s order serving as precedent for future White Houses, both Republican and Democrat. Same with Scalise, who on Saturday sent out a fundraising plea claiming that "Speaker Pelosi and the Democrat Majority left (Trump) with no other choice" but to issue the order.
Really, it’s almost no wonder that there are such mixed messages coming from people who are supposedly on the same side.
How can there messaging unity, when government itself has descended into such chaos?