Chuck Schumer has concluded that denying President Trump his wall is perhaps the surest major defeat Democrats can hand the President in his first year.
Trump needs 60 Senate votes to fund construction of his "great wall" along the Southern border. Unlike healthcare or tax reform, Republicans can't use the budget process to ram the wall funding through Congress using only Republican votes.
- Schumer's thinking: There's nothing the Republicans would be willing to offer that could get Trump the eight Democratic Senators he needs to fund the wall. Mitch McConnell's only other option would be to invoke the nuclear option and bypass the filibuster. But Democratic appropriators are betting the Republican leader won't be willing to undermine such a fundamental Senate tradition just to pay for Trump's wall.
- The evolving plan, being discussed by Schumer's office and Senate appropriators: If Republicans put money for the wall into a bill, Democrats block it. It doesn't matter what else is in the bill — Schumer will make it about the wall. The way Democrats see it, if they can block the wall, they'd crush a central feature of Trump's political identity. And as the face of the strategy, Schumer would thrill the Democratic base (though less so the red-state Democratic senators up in 2018).
- What happens next: Team Trump knows it's not going to be easy to fund the wall. A source familiar with the administration's plans says the preferred strategy would be to attach the wall funding to the bill that funds the military. That way, Republicans could tell the public that Schumer and the Democrats are blocking money not only for border security but for our troops. They'll run relentless attack ads against Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2018 in states that Trump won.
- What happens if Schumer wins: A second source familiar with the administration's thinking said that even if Democrats block funding, the administration will find ways to get by in the short term. "We have enough money to get a decent amount of the wall done in first year," the source said. "We can reprioritize some funding within [the Department of Homeland Security]. ... It's not like work would come to a complete halt."