A bor­der wall by any means re­mains Trump’s ob­ses­sion

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - VIEWPOINTS - Juan Castillo

Pres­i­dent Trump’s ob­ses­sion with a “big, beau­ti­ful wall” has reached new heights of ab­sur­dity.

Once, he fumed with Mex­ico be­cause our neigh­bor wouldn’t pay for his bor­der wall, though he had promised as much — over and over and over again. Now, the pres­i­dent is steamed be­cause the Amer­i­can tax­payer won’t pay for it, ei­ther, at least not for now. So, Trump is threat­en­ing to take the fed­eral gov­ern­ment hostage if he doesn’t get his way.

How did we get here? The pres­i­dent, who fa­mously bel­lowed his cam­paign vow to build a wall along the en­tire U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and sold his fol­low­ers on the crazy idea that Mex­ico would pick up the tab, ei­ther learned or con­ceded the ob­vi­ous in Jan­uary: Mex­ico isn’t pay­ing for a wall. Not a penny. For­mer Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Vi­cente Fox con­veyed as much in col­or­ful lan­guage in a widely viewed video taunt­ing Trump ear­lier this year.

But Trump knew the score long be­fore that video. Dur­ing a phone call shortly be­fore tak­ing of­fice, Trump fumed with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto for in­sist­ing Mex­ico wouldn’t pay for a wall. Stop say­ing so pub­licly, Trump begged.

Be­cause he needs money for the wall, Trump now is train­ing his ire on Congress. So far, only the House has approved Trump’s ini­tial re­quest for $1.6 bil­lion — not in pe­sos, but your tax­payer dol­lars — to be­gin con­struc­tion of a wall. That’s just for starters; the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity es­ti­mates the to­tal cost of a wall span­ning the en­tire south­ern bor­der at $21.6 bil­lion. Other es­ti­mates are higher.

The Se­nate, how­ever, is a higher bar than the House. It has a slim Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity, and a few Democrats hold some sway. Also, sev­eral GOP mem­bers have in­creas­ingly frac­tious re­la­tion­ships with the pres­i­dent, a group that in­cludes key fig­ures like Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, who needs the pres­i­dent as much as the pres­i­dent needs him if they are to ac­com­plish any­thing.

On Tues­day, dur­ing a cam­paign rally in Phoenix — you read that cor­rectly, a 2020 cam­paign rally only months after tak­ing of­fice — Trump threat­ened to shut down the gov­ern­ment if Congress doesn’t pro­vide fund­ing for a wall.

“If we have to close down our gov­ern­ment, we’re build­ing that wall,” he told rau­cous sup­port­ers.

Threat­en­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down is a risky roll of the dice for a pres­i­dent who hasn’t checked off much from his list of ma­jor goals. No wall. No new health care plan. No tax re­form. A Congress al­ready sad­dled with a “do-noth­ing” la­bel could get mired even deeper in in­er­tia.

Another key Repub­li­can, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, seemed to give Trump the ben­e­fit of the doubt Wed­nes­day, dis­miss­ing the pres­i­dent’s blus­ter as a bluff.”

“I think that’s part of — that’s Pres­i­dent Trump the ne­go­tia­tor lay­ing down the tough line,” Cornyn said.

That seems aw­fully kind. Even with a Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in Congress, the pres­i­dent hasn’t demon­strated abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate an agree­ment on one of his most cov­eted prizes — a re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act — even when his party holds all the cards.

An April sur­vey by the As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search found 58 per­cent of Amer­i­cans are against new spend­ing for a bor­der wall; just 28 per­cent sup­port it.

And Trump is get­ting a lot of push­back from Tex­ans who think the idea is wildly ex­pen­sive, in­ef­fi­cient, un­der­mines com­merce with Mex­ico, and threat­ens sen­si­tive wildlife and ter­rain.

Cornyn is one who op­poses Trump’s ini­tial re­quest for a bor­der wall. He’s in­tro­duced his own $15 bil­lion se­cu­rity plan that re­lies more on per­son­nel, sur­veil­lance and tech­nol­ogy.

Though Trump might be a lousy po­lit­i­cal ne­go­tia­tor, he’s a mas­ter­ful sales­man. He sold his sup­port­ers not only on the idea that Mex­ico would pay for a wall, but that it was top pri­or­ity in the first place.

But many im­mi­gra­tion ex­perts think a wall is an out­dated tool in an old war. Bear in mind, ap­pre­hen­sions of Mex­i­can mi­grants at the U.S. bor­der have fallen to his­toric lows, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, which also found that the num­ber of Mex­i­can mi­grants liv­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally has fallen by more than 1 mil­lion since 2007. Two-thirds of all im­mi­grants who joined the un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion in 2014 came here legally, but stayed after their visas ex­pired.

Nev­er­the­less, Trump per­sists. In threat­en­ing to shut down the gov­ern­ment to get his bor­der wall, the pres­i­dent Trump is threat­en­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple by not car­ry­ing out their busi­ness. That’s ab­surd.

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