WASHINGTON — Maybe President Donald Trump cannot get his “great, great” concrete border wall because Congress refuses to pay for it, despite candidate Trump’s repeated promises that he would make Mexico do so.
Or wait: It seems Trump has already built big sections of the wall, thanks to some $5 billion Congress has already given him.
No, hang on. Actually, the wall is not a wall at all, but instead “artistically designed steel slats” that may or may not look like a drawing of a spiky-topped fence that he sent out Friday.
All these interpretations of his progress on his signature campaign promise, of course, have come from Trump himself, and all in the span of a few months — laying the groundwork for his Christmas government shutdown that on Monday saw Trump fold in even more chaos in a series of confusing tweets.
“The Wall is different than the 25 Billion Dollars in Border Security. The complete Wall will be built with the Shutdown money plus funds already in hand. The reporting has been inaccurate on the point. The problem is, without the Wall, much of the rest of Dollars are wasted!” he wrote at 12:10 p.m.
It was unclear from the context what Trump meant by “Shutdown money” — shutdowns cost the federal government money, not save it — and White House officials did not respond to HuffPost queries on the matter.
Within minutes, though, he wrote, “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security. At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!”
His other tweets Monday roiled stock markets and perhaps the nation’s allies, but on the issue of the border wall, he seemed to be tweeting primarily to soothe himself. House members were not present at all, and the Senate held a brief procedural floor session that did not include any business.
“It’s Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and expected next House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a joint statement. “The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve — after he just fired the secretary of Defense.”
This month, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders alike were given assurances that Trump’s demands for American taxpayer money to build his wall would be postponed until after Pelosi takes control of the House in January. The Senate on Dec. 19 passed a short-term spending plan to fund the quarter of the government not already taken care of by earlier spending bills. The Senate proposal was so uncontroversial that it passed unanimously on a voice vote, with the House set to pass it on the floor the next day, Dec. 20, and Trump planning to fly down to Florida to start a 16-day golfing vacation on Dec. 21.
That plan, though, was torn up after his favorite Fox News hosts starting attacking him on the evening of Dec. 19 for abandoning his promise to build a border wall — a critique that was joined by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh the following afternoon.
Trump dragged lame-duck House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to the White House to explain that he would not sign the Senate-passed spending plan, which allocated $1.6 billion for border security, including $1.3 billion to build and refurbish barriers, and instead was demanding billions of dollars more.
Where that leaves the shutdown remains unclear. The House added $5.7 billion for border security but with no guidance as to how it would be spent. A 2018 spending bill — which the Senate-passed extension would continue — includes language prohibiting Trump from building any sort of structure not already in use by 2017. That would preclude the new designs that Trump toured prototypes of last year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent his members home on Saturday and said they need not return before Thursday afternoon at the earliest. White House officials and their congressional allies by Sunday settled on the message that no resolution was possible until after Pelosi becomes speaker because liberal Democrats would not support her in the Jan. 3 House leadership election if she compromised with Trump before then.
Trump, meanwhile, has gone from insisting that a wall had to be made of concrete and 30 feet tall and could not be a fence — “It’s not a fence, Jeb, it’s a WALL, and there’s a BIG difference!” he chided GOP rival Jeb Bush in 2015 — to taking credit for the “bollard fence” designed and first implemented under President Barack Obama and just calling that a wall. In fact, Trump’s newfound praise for “steel slats” appears to be endorsing the exact fence design that he previously ridiculed.
In their statement Monday, Schumer and Pelosi teed off on Trump for reversing course without offering any clarity on what he wanted. “Instead of bringing certainty into people’s lives, he’s continuing the Trump Shutdown just to please right-wing radio and TV hosts,” they wrote. “Meanwhile, different people from the same White House are saying different things about what the president would accept or not accept to end his Trump Shutdown, making it impossible to know where they stand at any given moment.”
One GOP consultant close to Trump said his response to the Fox and Limbaugh criticism was smart, given their influence among his hard-core supporters. Polling and focus groups conducted by a pro-Trump group, in fact, indicated that the wall remains a core issue for them, the consultant said on condition of anonymity.
“Trump voters identify all his accomplishments with the wall,” the consultant said, adding that caving without a fight would have been a disaster. Trump’s shutdown over the issue is supported by his most loyal backers, the consultant said. “I think it’s going to help him.”
A former top White House official, though, said the time for Trump to move forward with his wall was a year ago, and that believing a wall would be supported by a Democratic House without giving up major concessions on immigration that his base would hate is a fantasy.
“The shutdown ends with no wall,” the former official predicted, also on condition of anonymity. “That ship sailed.”