WASHINGTON – There are about two weeks until large sections of the government could shut down again, but neither President Donald Trump nor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear ready to back off their positions on funding for Trump’s proposed southern border wall.
“There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters on Thursday morning as congressional Democrats unveiled their opening offer for border security funding, part of a formal negotiating process currently underway on Capitol Hill.
Last week, Trump signed a short-term measure, which lacked funding for a wall despite his demands, to reopen the government and end a record-long shutdown. But as negotiators from both parties met to begin hammering out a deal that could pass the House and Senate, 16 blocks away at the White House, Trump was eagerly playing the role of third man in the room.
“I don’t expect much coming out of this committee,” Trump told reporters at a midday photo-op. “I keep hearing the words ‘we’ll give you what you want.’ The problem is, if they don’t give us a wall, it doesn’t work. Without a wall, it doesn’t work.”
Trump accused Pelosi of “just playing games,” and said that if the committee reached an agreement by the Feb. 15 deadline that did not contain adequate wall funding, “I don’t even want to waste my time reading what they have, because it’s a waste of time. Because the only thing that works for security and safety for our country is a wall.”
The president’s tone appeared to shut the door on what had, briefly on Thursday, seemed like a potential opening from Pelosi, albeit one buried in the details of her proposal.
Pelosi suggested that she would be open to finishing a previously authorized project to install so-called Normandy fencing across parts of the border. Normandy fencing involves movable sections of metal bars arranged in an “X” pattern, and is designed to stop vehicles, not people.
“If the president wants to call that a wall, he can call that a wall. … Is there a place for enhanced fencing? Normandy fencing would work,” Pelosi said.
In 2016, nearly half of the Arizona-Mexico border was covered with vehicle fencing, including vast sections of Normandy fencing sections.
Asked Thursday whether he would accept different kinds of “physical barriers,” like the kinds being suggested by Democrats, Trump replied, “No, because if there’s no wall, then it doesn’t work.”
Several times during his remarks, Trump appeared to muddy his message about the urgency of the wall funding by insisting that the wall was already being built.
“We have a lot of wall under construction,” Trump said, “we’ve given out a lot of contracts over the last three or four weeks … a lot of the wall is soon going to be under construction. The most important area, the Rio Grande area and others. We’re not waiting for this committee.”
This comment, while technically accurate, was nonetheless misleading. It’s true that Customs and Border Protection awarded several contracts last fall both for replacement wall construction and the building of an eight-mile stretch of new wall in Texas. But these projects were funded with money appropriated by Congress in 2017, and have nothing to do with the ongoing battle over government funding.
The previous year’s budget contained $1.6 billion for border security, and Democrats have signaled a willingness to renew that amount. But Trump’s most recent demand was for more than three times as much, $5.7 billion in wall funds, a figure that was dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled House.
Despite his pessimism Thursday, Trump said he would nonetheless wait until Feb. 15 to decide whether or not to declare a national emergency to appropriate wall funds. But he also refused to rule out the possibility of another partial government shutdown.
“By having the shutdown, we’ve set the table for where we are now,” Trump said, who seemed to imply that Republicans were in a stronger position now than they had been before the 35-day shutdown.
“If I didn’t do the shutdown, people wouldn’t know anything about the subject,” Trump added. “Now they understand the subject.”
Wider public understanding of the subject, however, may not be a good thing for the White House.
A recent CBS News poll taken during the shutdown found that 71 percent of Americans “don’t think the issue of a border wall is worth a government shutdown, which they say is now having a negative impact on the country.”