WASHINGTON ― One week into the three-week negotiating period before another possible government shutdown, President Donald Trump yet again demanded that lawmakers give him billions of dollars for a wall along the Mexican border.
He also hinted that he would declare a national emergency if they did not.
All while simultaneously claiming ― falsely ― that he has already built and is currently building “a lot” of the wall.
So went the latest twists Thursday in Trump’s continuing efforts to get U.S. taxpayers to provide the money for a “great, great” wall that he promised hundreds of times during his campaign he would force Mexico to pay for.
“There is no wall going up,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican consultant who worked for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign during the 2016 presidential primaries. “So the only thing to conclude is that Trump is building a fake wall with fake pesos to stop fake caravans to prevent a fake border crisis for which he will declare another fake victory.”
The president triggered a 35-day government shutdown just before Christmas over the refusal by the then wholly Republican-led Congress to appropriate billions of taxpayer dollars for his signature campaign promise.
A week ago, he signed the exact short-term spending deal ― with no wall money ― that he said he would not sign in December. On Thursday, he said he did so to help the 800,000 federal workers who already had missed a month of pay. He claimed, without evidence, that “many” of them had wanted him to continue the shutdown to get wall money.
“But I didn’t want to do it because people were getting hurt,” Trump told reporters following an Oval Office photo opportunity.
He added that the shutdown had great value because it focused attention on the wall and illegal immigration. “If I didn’t do the shutdown, people wouldn’t know, people wouldn’t understand the subject,” the president said. “Now they understand the subject. They understand what a humanitarian crisis it is.”
The fact of the matter was it’s his fault for not getting it in his first two years, when he had control of Congress. He can blame Paul Ryan all he wants. A former Trump campaign official, on the president's criticism of the former House speaker
Trump has taken to blaming former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for failing to get him funds for a wall during Trump’s first two years in the White House, when his own party controlled both chambers of Congress. “I was very disappointed in Paul because the wall was so desperately needed,” he told the conservative website Daily Caller.
But one former Trump campaign official said the president failed to take advantage of his first-year power when he had it. “The fact of the matter was it’s his fault for not getting it in his first two years, when he had control of Congress. He can blame Paul Ryan all he wants,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Now, with the House under the control of Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump is facing vocal opposition to his wall rather than just passive resistance. “There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation,” Pelosi said Thursday, but allowed that she is open to some new barriers in some areas as well as money for better technical monitoring. “That’s part of the negotiation.”
Trump made illegal immigration and caravans of asylum-seekers heading to the border the centerpiece of his midterm election message last year. In speech after speech, he told audiences at his rallies and those watching at home that the migrants would bring crime and drugs and that Pelosi wanted “open borders” and would welcome those people in.
Despite his efforts ― and in some congressional districts, because of them ― Democrats picked up 40 seats in the House. Meanwhile, Republicans, although they had the most favorable Senate election map in decades, picked up only two seats in that chamber.
As a Dec. 21 government funding deadline approached, Trump resumed talking about caravans and immigrants coming to commit crimes ― including one particularly lurid but apparently apocryphal description of kidnapped women being bound and gagged with duct tape as they’re smuggled across the border.
On Thursday, Trump told reporters that he doubted the House and Senate conference committee negotiators working on a new Department of Homeland Security funding bill would include money for his wall. He acknowledged that he might yet declare a “national emergency,” which he believes would let him transfer money from other executive agency accounts to build the wall.
“I’m waiting till Feb. 15,” Trump said, referring to the next shutdown deadline. “On Feb. 15, the committee will come back. And if they don’t have a wall, I don’t even want to waste my time reading what they have.”
Media reports from when Trump previously threatened to declare an emergency noted that he was thinking of raiding billions of dollars from the Defense Department’s Army Corps of Engineers budget to repair hurricane damage in places like Puerto Rico and Houston.
“Those are not great ideas,” said Michael Steel, once a top aide to then GOP House Speaker John Boehner.
Steel added that since Democrats seem willing to agree to money for some new physical barriers, he did not fully understand talk about an emergency or another shutdown.
“The president can say, ‘This is a wall.’ The Democrats can say, ‘No, it isn’t.’ And everyone lives to fight another day,” Steel said. “It shouldn’t be hard.”