WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump quietly signed legislation on Friday that spends $853 billion on the Department of Defense and other federal agencies and zero dollars on his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The signature averts a partial government shutdown that would have taken place at midnight Monday had Trump vetoed the measure, as he has threatened to do for months if the Republican-led Congress failed to provide wall money.
“This shows the president to be a total wuss on the budget,” said Stan Collender, a longtime former staffer for both House and Senate budget committees.
In campaign rallies, Trump had repeatedly threatened to force a government shutdown if he did not get at least several billion dollars to start building a wall. On Sept. 20, two days after the Senate approved the latest spending package with a 93-7 vote, Trump wrote on Twitter: “I want to know, where is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this ridiculous Spending Bill, and where will it come from after the Midterms? Dems are obstructing Law Enforcement and Border Security. REPUBLICANS MUST FINALLY GET TOUGH!”
“This is the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt. Speak loudly and carry a small stick,” Collender laughed, adding that in future negotiations, congressional leaders will remember Trump’s failure to follow through on this threat. “The Hill doesn’t forget. They’re going to discount everything he says.”
Some of Trump’s supporters and informal advisers had been pushing him to veto the spending bill and force Congress to provide wall funding. They feared that his most enthusiastic supporters will sit out the midterm elections if they feel Trump has abandoned his first and most frequently repeated campaign promise.
“President Trump has made it clear he will not use his veto power to get his border wall,” said William Gheen, head of the hard-line group Americans for Legal Immigration. “He ramped up his rhetoric that he would veto spending bills that didn’t fund the wall, and here he is signing it.”
Trump signed the measure out of sight of the media. It was announced hours later in a press release that merely restates the bill’s dry, legislative summary. The bill provides a full year’s funding for the departments of Defense, Education, Labor and Health and Human Services, as well as funding through Dec. 7 for agencies not covered by this legislation or by a previous spending bill.
Trump promised from the day he began his campaign in June 2015 that he would build a “great wall” to end illegal immigration from Mexico.
“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively,” Trump said in his Trump Tower announcement. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Over the next 17 months, Trump promised many hundreds of times that he would build the wall quickly and at no cost to U.S. taxpayers. Trump said his wall would be at least 30 feet tall and extend deep underground to prevent people from tunneling beneath it. At a December 2015 visit to Manassas, Virginia, Trump even went into construction details.
“It’s going to be made of hardened concrete, and it’s going to be made out of rebar. That’s steel,” Trump said in response to a question from a young boy in the audience. “And we’re going to set [the rebar] in nice, heavy foundations.”
In a phone call with Enrique Peña Nieto just days after taking office, Trump told the Mexican president that he understood Mexico would not pay for the wall, but asked Peña Nieto not to say that publicly, to avoid embarrassing Trump.
Trump’s administration never again broached the subject with the Mexican government, according to a spokesman from Peña Nieto’s office.
Trump in March signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill for the entire government that included only $38 million for planning and design on his border wall, and nothing for construction.
Laura Raquel Manzo of HuffPost Mexico contributed to this report.