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Border security deal: after government shutdown, conservatives are stuck

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Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the House conservative leader who in December advised President Donald Trump to reject any government funding bill without a down payment on his border wall, isn’t happy with a compromise agreement Congress has come up with on border security. But he’s stuck.

The government will run out of money again this Friday, and the last time conservatives overplayed their hand with government shutdown brinksmanship, the government underwent the longest shutdown in US history. It tanked Trump’s approval rating without getting them any closer to their desired hundreds of miles of fencing along the US-Mexico border.

Officially, Meadows said the compromise was “hardly a serious attempt to secure our border,” and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), another conservative Trump ally who also advised Trump to shut down the government over border wall funding, called it “bad deal.”

Privately, conservatives admit they have few options. “There is no appetite for shutdown, especially after how the last one went down,” a Republican congressional aide close to the conservatives told Vox. But the alternative, accepting the bipartisan deal House and Senate lawmakers hashed out Monday night, is proving too hard to swallow.

The agreement would allocate only $1.3 billion toward the fencing (less than what Senate Democrats offered last year), in exchange for decreasing the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.

Last week, Meadows told reporters he’d rather keep passing a stopgap funding agreement than agree to an unfavorable bipartisan compromise. After the border security deal was announced late Monday night, Meadows tweeted that he thinks the president should take executive action on the border, implying he’d rather that than another shutdown.

“The best-case scenario looks like you take this deal, take the money, and use executive action,” the Republican aide said — showing a clear shift among conservatives, who spent all of Barack Obama’s tenure railing against excessive use of executive power.

Conservatives and the Trump White House are stuck. They have to either admit that they gravely underestimated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ability to keep Democrats unified against the border wall or say the shutdown was a political play — one that forced 800,000 federal employees to miss two paychecks over the holidays.

Either way, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that conservatives will get what they want on immigration through Congress. So now they are calling on the president to circumvent Congress altogether.

Trump keeps not getting what he wants on immigration in Congress

The compromise deal on border security technically gives Trump what he wants. There’s some money for physical barriers: $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new border fencing. The border security is more holistic than just fencing; the deal also includes $1.7 billion in funding for other resources, like technology. And it doesn’t put a cap on detention beds, as Democrats were initially calling for, instead funding 40,520 beds.

But conservatives and the Trump White House know this is a far cry from their demands.

As Vox’s Li Zhou reported, the wall funding is “actually less than the $1.6 billion in fencing funding offered by a bipartisan Senate agreement last year. And it’s far less than the $5.7 billion President Trump has demanded for a wall in recent requests.” And ICE will actually be reducing its number of detention beds under this agreement.

A close look at how immigration and border security negotiations have gone in Congress since Trump came into office shows that this is par for the course; Trump’s immigration agenda is untenable in Congress.

His comprehensive proposal to overhaul the legal and illegal immigration systems didn’t even have enough support among Republicans alone to pass the House last year. The wall has gone unfunded repeatedly. And the last major Department of Homeland Security spending bill, passed in March 2018, didn’t meet Trump’s demands for additional border patrol officers and reduced ICE detention beds.

Nothing — not even shutting down the government for more than a month — has moved Trump closer to getting his funding demands in Congress. Instead, it’s only cost him more, tanking his already low approval rating and putting hundreds of thousands of Americans’ livelihoods on the line.

So Trump’s conservative allies who used to be game for a good shutdown fight (Meadows and Jordan also rallied behind the 2013 government shutdown over Obamacare) no longer see another shutdown as an option. And while privately, there is nervousness about Trump pursuing the wall through executive action — both because of the likely legal backlash and because of the precedent it would set for possible future Democratic presidents — there’s no better path forward for them.

“I do expect the president to take some kind of executive action — a national emergency is certainly part of that,” Meadows said on CBS over the weekend. “At this point, we have a crisis. We have a crisis with a need to secure the border that we have to do. And this president is going to build a wall one way or another.”

Shutdown brinkmanship hasn’t worked — for anyone

Shutdown brinksmanship, the game of using the government shutdown to leverage a policy win, has increasingly become the standard operating procedure in Congress.

Democrats used it last year to force the Senate to take up votes on bipartisan immigration proposals. The three-day shutdown ultimately left Democrats with a verbal commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to negotiate on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Those negotiations were fruitless.

In December, Trump, encouraged by House conservatives, tried the same strategy. It failed again. Trump’s popularity dropped below 40 percent during the government shutdown, according to a Morning Consult poll conducted December 21 to 23. The last time Trump’s approval rating was that low was when he refused to condemn neo-Nazis after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

And while approval ratings and public perception around shutdowns are usually short-lived and will likely have little electoral effect, it’s increasingly looking like Trump has no choice but to accept a bipartisan border security proposal that his most hardline allies see as pathetic.

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Oakland teachers strike: Union calls strike for pay, smaller classes

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Teacher frustration keeps spreading.

Public school teachers in Oakland, California, said they will strike on Thursday, following 18 months of tense negotiations with district officials over pay raises and classroom sizes.

“We have had it. Enough is enough, bargaining with our school district has not worked,” said Keith Brown, a middle school teacher and president of the Oakland Education Association, during a press conference on Saturday. “Our schools have been starved of resources for years.”

If they don’t reach a deal before Thursday, about 3,000 teachers won’t show up to work in one of the state’s largest school districts, which has struggled from years of budget cuts and poor student performance.

Teachers say the lack of investment in city schools is hurting student performance. The cost of living in Oakland has also skyrocketed in recent years, due to an influx of high-skilled workers unable to afford housing across the bay in San Francisco, making it impossible for teachers to live there on their current salaries, Keith said. Teachers want a pay raise, smaller class sizes, and more counselors and nurses.

The strike in Oakland would come a month after teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job with similar demands — and ended up getting a lot of what they wanted. At the time, LA officials said the same thing Oakland officials are now saying: We just don’t have the money.

Oakland schools are facing a $56 million budget deficit in the next two years, so the school board wants to cut school spending, not increase it. School officials are trying to get more money from the state, but teachers are ready to walk out. And they know they have leverage.

It’s just the latest strike in what’s becoming a national trend. More than 100,000 public school teachers in six states have walked out of class in the past year, rebelling from years of stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure, and deep budget cuts to education. The strikes in Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, California, and Colorado had broad public support, forcing state lawmakers to raise pay and fueling a national movement to boost investment in public education.

So far, that momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Funding for public schools in California is a mess

Oakland teachers share a lot of the same frustrations that led LA teachers to walk out of class in January. They say school districts are spending too much money on privately run charter schools that have little public oversight. They also believe they are paid too little working in a state with much wealth.

California is among states spending the least on each student (adjusted for the cost of living), largely because of the state’s strict limits on property tax rates.

The Oakland Education Association, a labor union representing 3,000 educators, has been trying to negotiate a new contract since the last one expired in 2017. Teachers want a 12 percent pay raise over three years, smaller classes, and more support staff. One school counselor for every 600 students is not conducive to a student’s success, says Keith Brown, the group’s president.

The district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years.

Teachers rejected the offer.

“Unless there are dramatic changes to the district’s approach, including spending more money on students and for nurses and counselors, lower class size, and a living wage that will keep Oakland teachers in the classrooms, we will strike,” Brown said.

The school district has said it is willing to keep negotiating for a better deal to avert the strike, and would consider some recommendations from an independent panel, which found that low teacher pay, large class sizes, and school privatization were hurting Oakland schools. The report also acknowledges the state’s “complicated, flawed” system for funding public education.

“Despite our challenges, we are prepared with a comprehensive proposal to reach an agreement. If both sides are committed to settling the contract before a strike occurs —and we are — an agreement can certainly be reached without disrupting the educational experience for students, families and staff,” Oakland Schools Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement Saturday.

They have three days to try and reach a deal.

Teachers are leading a national workers revolt

A record number of US workers went on strike or stopped working in 2018 because of labor disputes with employers, according to new data released last week by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 485,000 employees were involved in major work stoppages last year — the highest number since 1986, when flight attendants, garbage collectors, and steelworkers walked off the job.

Frustrated public school teachers were behind the year’s largest walkouts, but hotel housekeepers and steelworkers also organized strikes that lasted for days.

There are no signs that worker angst has subsided. So far, in 2019, teachers in two major cities have launched their own strikes. And in January, the Los Angeles teachers strike shut down the nation’s second-largest school district for more than a week.

As part of their deal with city officials, teachers agreed to a 6 percent raise and slightly fewer students in each classroom, according to Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a labor union that represents about 34,000 public school teachers, nurses, librarians, and support staff in the city.

Last week, more than 2,000 teachers in Denver went on strike for three days. The school district ended up giving educators and extra $23 million in pay and agreed to overhaul the compensation system, which relied heavily on annual bonuses.

Now Oakland teachers are prepared to walk out, and Sacramento teachers may follow.

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Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign: news and updates

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