FAC­ING WALL OF RE­SIS­TANCE

Al­lies say Trump was in an un­winnable sit­u­a­tion in re­cent weeks as he wa­vered over whether to make a fi­nal stand. Mex­ico was never go­ing to pay for it, as can­di­date Trump promised

The Gulf Today - - FOCUS - BY NOAH BIER­MAN

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s “big beau­ti­ful wall” along the nearly 2,000-mile south­ern bor­der — the dein­ing prom­ise of his cam­paign and now his pres­i­dency — took a quiet yet po­ten­tially fa­tal hit Fri­day when he signed a gov­ern­ment fund­ing bill with a small frac­tion of the $25 bil­lion he has asked for.

The bill keeps the gov­ern­ment op­er­at­ing through Dec. 7, avoid­ing a po­lit­i­cally dam­ag­ing shut­down that Repub­li­can law­mak­ers had feared just weeks be­fore the Novem­ber con­gres­sional elec­tions. Be­cause Trump had re­peat­edly threat­ened to shut­ter the gov­ern­ment if he didn’t get his wall money, only his sig­na­ture in­ally put Repub­li­can lead­ers’ fears to rest.

Yet for a sec­ond year, he has re­ceived but a small in­stall­ment from a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress. And if Democrats win con­trol of the House in Novem­ber, as they are favoured to do, Trump would see his lever­age de­cline sub­stan­tially.

What­ever the out­come, even ad­min­is­tra­tion ofi­cials say it will be di­fi­cult to force Congress’ hand on the is­sue in De­cem­ber dur­ing a so-called lame-duck ses­sion, a post­elec­tion pe­riod usu­ally re­served only for es­sen­tial law-mak­ing.

“The wall is dead. Not gonna hap­pen. Not on the ta­ble,” said Frank Sharry, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amer­ica’s Voice, a group that ad­vo­cates for im­mi­gra­tion. “Here’s the dirty lit­tle se­cret,” he added. “There’s no fund­ing for the bor­der wall be­cause there’s not enough sup­port among Repub­li­cans, much less Democrats.”

UN­WINNABLE SIT­U­A­TION

Al­lies say Trump was in an un­winnable sit­u­a­tion in re­cent weeks as he wa­vered over whether to make a inal stand. Mex­ico was never go­ing to pay for it, as can­di­date Trump promised. Yet nei­ther most vot­ers nor, by ex­ten­sion, many mem­bers of Congress sup­port pay­ing for a wall. Even more, both op­pose clos­ing the gov­ern­ment.

“The pres­i­dent is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t,” said Michael Ca­puto, a for­mer cam­paign ad­viser, speak­ing just be­fore Trump signed the spend­ing bill. “If he shuts down the gov­ern­ment, as he prob­a­bly should, the Repub­li­cans will lose the House and he will not get his wall.”

Al­though Trump seems likely to lose his chance to build the mon­u­ment-style edi­ice stretch­ing up to 2,000 miles that he’s con­jured by his rally rhetoric, he can point to lim­ited suc­cesses.

In some places with ex­ist­ing struc­tures, he has suc­ceeded in speed­ing up the tar­geted re­place­ment of di­lap­i­dated fences with high steel bol­lard bar­ri­ers. Even that is chang­ing life­styles and economies in bor­der com­mu­ni­ties, tak­ing pri­vate land, in­ter­rupt­ing wildlife mi­gra­tion and test­ing his claim that bar­ri­ers along the bor­der will curb il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings.

WALLS OR FENCES?

Congress has given the ad­min­is­tra­tion about $1.7 bil­lion for bar­rier con­struc­tion since last year, enough for more than 100 miles of projects in places such as San Diego and El Paso. Trump and his ofi­cials at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity like to re­fer to them as walls while Democrats point­edly call them fences. The struc­tures ac­tu­ally are some­thing in be­tween, given that they are made of thick steel and range as high as 30 feet, but are not solid — more like closely spaced poles.

Im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates who op­pose Trump’s talk of im­pos­ing walls say these bar­ri­ers should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. They com­plain that the new struc­tures en­dan­ger mi­grants and dis­rupt com­mu­ni­ties where res­i­dents on each side of the bor­der have long crossed back and forth. Home­land Se­cu­rity ofi­cials say they are work­ing at re­duc­ing il­le­gal en­tries.

The struc­tures look noth­ing like the im­pos­ing pro­to­types the pres­i­dent in­spected dur­ing a March trip to San Diego, the type of solid con­struc­tion Trump of­ten touted dur­ing the cam­paign. Al­though the pres­i­dent in­sists to sup­port­ers in ral­lies that he has be­gun build­ing the wall —evok­ing the fa­mil­iar chants of “Build the wall!” — he also con­cedes the lim­ited bol­lard sec­tions fall short of what he re­ally wants.

Af­ter sign­ing the gov­ern­ment fund­ing bill, which pro­vides money for bor­der con­struc­tion at the same rate he is get­ting this is­cal year, Trump railed against “rad­i­cal Democrats” who “refuse to sup­port bor­der se­cu­rity and want drugs and crime to pour into our coun­try.”

Yet in a tweet last week, he seemed to cast as much blame on Repub­li­cans as Democrats. “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?” he wrote. “Dems are ob­struct­ing Law En­force­ment and Bor­der Se­cu­rity. REPUB­LI­CANS MUST FI­NALLY GET TOUGH!”

DEEPER DY­NAM­ICS

Though Trump has been con­sumed by any num­ber of is­sues since tak­ing ofice, a bor­der wall re­mains an es­sen­tial piece of his po­lit­i­cal brand, a crowd-pleaser at every rally and a key prom­ise for a pres­i­dent who loves talk­ing about them.

The ma­jor­ity of likely vot­ers — 56 per cent to 40 per cent — op­pose a wall, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Dorn­sife/los An­ge­les Times poll. But among likely vot­ers who cast bal­lots for Trump in 2016, 84 per cent sup­port the wall, in­clud­ing 59 per cent who “strongly sup­port” one.

Though Democrats are loath to give Trump a vic­tory, they have voted for some wall fund­ing in the past. Rep. Zoe Lof­gren, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who helped lead a failed at­tempt at over­haul­ing fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion law in 2013, said in an in­ter­view that “there are places where it makes sense,” call­ing it “a myth the Democrats are op­posed to all phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers.”

But she said it was Repub­li­cans, as much as Democrats, who saw Trump’s plan as more of a bumper sticker is­sue, a sym­bol of be­ing tough on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, than an ac­tual plan. Repub­li­cans “are the ma­jor­ity” in the House and Se­nate, she noted. “They didn’t do this, right?”

Marc Short, who served as Trump’s leg­isla­tive af­fairs di­rec­tor un­til July, in­sisted Repub­li­can lead­ers have not aban­doned the ight. They just don’t want it now, ahead of the elec­tions. “Repub­li­can lead­er­ship un­der­stands their vot­ers want a wall and that Trump vot­ers want a wall,” he said. “It’s been stalled be­cause Democrats know that that’s what the Trump vot­ers want most.”

Trump re­jected a bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise pro­posal ear­lier this year that would have in­cluded more wall fund­ing in ex­change for con­tin­ued pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion for so-called Dream­ers who came to the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren. Short blamed Democrats for “mov­ing the goal­posts” dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions; im­mi­gra­tion rights ad­vo­cates say hard-lin­ers on Trump’s team scut­tled the deal.

In truth, many of the groups on trump’ s side of the de­bate press­ing for lim­ited im­mi­gra­tion also don’t care much for a wall. “Our fo­cus has al­ways been that out­law busi­nesses are the main cause of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and the fo­cus ought to be on them,” said Roy Beck, pres­i­dent of the re­stric­tion­ist group Num­ber­susa.

Build­ing a wall doesn’t make it into his group’s list of top 10 pri­or­i­ties. “It’s a sym­bol for the pres­i­dent and it’s a sym­bol for the Democrats,” he said.

NOT RULED OUT

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion does not be­lieve the is­sue is dead, even if Democrats win the House. A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion ofi­cial said Democrats would have to re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble if the Supreme Court sides with Trump in end­ing cur­rent, court-or­dered pro­tec­tions for Dream­ers, which could hap­pen next year.

But lib­eral im­mi­gra­tion groups are skep­ti­cal that Democrats will make Trump an­other of­fer that in­cludes sig­ni­icant spend­ing for a wall.

“He’s just not go­ing to be able to do it while he’s pres­i­dent,” said Kerri Tal­bot, di­rec­tor of fed­eral ad­vo­cacy for Im­mi­gra­tion Hub, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that works with im­mi­gra­tion agen­cies. “He’s just not go­ing to be able to keep that prom­ise.”

File/tri­bune News Ser­vice

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tours the bor­der wall pro­to­types near the Otay Mesa Port of En­try in San Diego County, Cal­i­for­nia, on March 13.

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