Studio portrait of Sid Salter. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)
Mississippi Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson has been an unapologetic liberal on social issues for the whole of his long congressional career and that stance has certainly applied to issues surrounding immigration.
The election of President Donald Trump has done little to change that narrative. To be sure, Thompson has battled Trump over a number of his immigration initiatives, including the controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the so-called “Dreamers” or young undocumented immigrants with no legal status that DACA protects in the absence of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act or DREAM.
But on Jan. 20 on the ABC News Sunday talking head show “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Thompson remarkably talked in terms that offered Trump a significant opening in solving what Trump has claimed was the major obstacle to bringing the federal government shutdown to a more permanent close than the present three-week truce.
Speaking in measured tones to ABC co-anchor Martha Raddatz – the tenacious foreign policy journalist – Thompson said in response to a dogged line of questioning by Raddatz that indicated that the reporter saw the worth of a wall or barrier as a component in an overall border security solution.
Thompson parried craftily with Raddatz for several similar, repetitive questions, but each time she attempted to lead him back to a “yes or no” answer on the question of whether he thought Democrats would even negotiate about a border wall.
At one point, Raddatz went directly at Thompson over the issue when she said to the House Homeland Security Committee chairman: “Representative Thompson, you said in a statement that the president’s childish behavior is causing families to struggle to pay rent and put food on the dinner table, but if Democrats are unwilling to budge at all on the funding for the border wall, don’t you own some of the blame for the continued stalemate?”
Thompson replied: “Well, Martha, first of all, this is President Trump’s shutdown. Those 800,000 employees, they go to work because they have to, they’re not independently wealthy, and we should pay them. We should not be in this situation. Put the people back to work and let’s negotiate border security, but don’t hold those 800,000 employees hostage in this situation. Democrats are for border security, but we want to talk about it. We want to make sure that what we’re doing is the right thing. The notion that we have come from a wall to some other thing is moving it along, but we have to sit down and talk. The president, for whatever reason, likes to talk at people rather than to people and that’s not how you work things out.”
Raddatz took a second shot at the border wall question, asking: “Could you negotiate on a wall? That’s certainly the sticking point with President Trump.”
Thompson calmly said: “Well, we can negotiate on border security. And I think what we’re trying to get the president to understand is we’ll sit down and work this out. But, you know, we all are adults, and you can’t treat Democrats like something else. And so for the president as chair of the Homeland Security Committee, I’m saying we’ll sit down and we’ll talk about the situations and we’ll work through it. But under the present circumstances, it’s almost like a talking point rather than trying to get something established.”
Raddatz, like a dog on a bone, kept gnawing the on the border wall question with Thompson.
She asked in rapid fire succession: “Are you standing firm that you will not negotiate on a wall itself or is there wiggle room with that wall? So you wouldn’t rule out a wall?”
Thompson answered: “I would not rule out a wall in certain instances. Now, the notion that we can’t have barriers is just something that’s not true. But again, Martha, you have to have a plan. And the plan that the president initially started with is not where he is now. And so we don’t know where he will be tomorrow. But clearly Democrats are for border security, but we’re not for this constantly moving the ball just for a talking point. Mr. President, Democrats will work with you, but you can’t pick what Democrats you’ll work with. We have picked our leaders and you have to work with our leaders. And I encourage you to do that.”
Thompson is now a serious player on the final outcome of Trump’s border wall. Mississippians, unfortunately, are not as cognizant of that notion as is the national media and the rest of the players on Capitol Hill. Thompson is in a position to substantially negotiate the future of both U.S. border security generally and Trump’s wall specifically.