The White House refused to concede Thursday that President Donald Trump has given up, even temporarily, on a promise to make Mexico pay for a border wall.
Yet the tactical retreat seemed apparent as Trump pressured Congress for wall funds, threatening a government shutdown next month if lawmakers don’t deliver — with no mention of any Mexican contribution.
“He campaigned on the wall. He won on talking about building the wall, and he’s going to make sure that gets done and he’ll continue to fight for that funding,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday, as she ducked repeated questions about her boss’s commitment to following through on the promise to make Mexico pay.
“Believe me,” he told crowds throughout his campaign.
Aides offered no explanation for when, how, or even whether he’ll try to wrest money from Mexico.
At a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Trump aimed all of his pressure at Congress, Democrats in particular. He made no mention of his long-stated aim of making Mexico pay — a remarkable pivot away from a central campaign vow. In the last few months aides have tried to finesse Trump’s pledge by promising that Mexico would eventually pay back whatever the U.S. taxpayer spends upfront.
“Build that wall,” Trump said in Phoenix, echoing chants from the crowd after he’d broached the topic. “The obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall. Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security: You are putting all of America’s safety at risk.”
The project could cost $20 billion to $30 billion or more. Exact estimates are impossible to come by, in part because Trump hasn’t specified exactly how much barrier he wants. The 2,000-mile frontier already has 700 miles of fencing.
Trump has insisted that only a wall, not fencing, would be adequate, however. Walls cost far more than fences. If he wants to replace hundreds of miles of existing barrier, that would add billions to the price tag.
Mexican leaders have flatly rejected the idea that their nation will contribute anything toward construction of a wall they view as an affront to a friendly neighbor, trading partner and ally in the war on drugs and human smuggling.
A transcript of Trump’s phone call with President Enrique Pena Nieto a week after taking office, leaked earlier this month, showed Trump pleading with his counterpart to stop embarrassing him by publicly pushing back against his signature campaign promise.
Trump suggested in that call that he would quietly drop demands for payment in return for Pena Nieto giving him political cover.
In the last six months there have been few outward signs that Trump has any plan for wresting the payment he so often and enthusiastically promised voters, as part of his anti-immigrant, America first posture.
But he and aides have never conceded that he’s given up on that goal.
The threat of a government shutdown provided a new wrinkle.
Trump tried to put the onus on Democrats, who view the wall as a boondoggle. But Republicans control both the House and Senate. There’s never been a shutdown with Congress and the White House in the hands of one party, and such an outcome would be a huge embarrassment for Trump and fellow Republicans.
On top of that, despite Trump’s efforts to pressure Democrats, the Republicans who run Congress — House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — have flatly ruled out a shutdown. Both call it a bad idea and are clearly averse to using the tactic to deliver wall funding.
The House has approved $1.6 billion through the end of 2018 for construction — enough for 60 miles of new barrier in Texas and 14 miles of replacement secondary fencing in Southern California. The measure is stuck in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 majority, and need 60 votes to approve most spending.
“I certainly don’t think the efforts (to make Mexico pay) have been abandoned,” Sanders insisted at the White House, though she declined repeatedly to explain what efforts, if any, are being made.
By inference, Trump puts a higher priority on getting the wall built than on forcing Mexico to pay.
“The president’s committed to making sure this gets done. We know that the wall and other security measures at the border work. We’ve seen that take place over the last decade and we’re committed to making sure the America people are protected,” she said.
Urban areas along the border are already fenced, meaning that unfenced areas tend to be more remote and rugged.
Access roads would be required for construction equipment and crews, though once such roads are cut, Border Patrol agents and local authorities would have an easier time responding to incursions detected remotely.
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency