Trump’s wall fan­tasy shifts from un­likely to ab­surd

The Garden Island - - Morning Briefing - DON­ALD LAMBRO

In his block­buster 2016 cam­paign for pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump made a lot of big pro­pos­als to fix our coun­try’s prob­lems that he said could be ac­com­plished rel­a­tively quickly.

His big­gest pro­posal was to build “a big, beau­ti­ful wall” along our 2,000-mile bor­der with Mex­ico. But one year and three months into his pres­i­dency, that wall is still a fig­ment of his imag­i­na­tion, and most likely will never be built.

But that’s just one-half of his pro­posal. To build a wall of that size and length would cost at least $80 bil­lion, and likely a great deal more. The other half of his pledge to vot­ers was that Mex­ico would pay for it. And mil­lions of his sup­port­ers be­lieved him.

Through­out his whirl­wind cam­paign, Trump would ask the le­gions of vot­ers who packed his ral­lies, “Who is go­ing to pay for the wall?” And his sup­port­ers would roar back, “Mex­ico!”

Yet, from the very be­gin­ning, the pres­i­dent of Mex­ico re­peat­edly said his coun­try would never pay for the wall, and told Trump just that at a meet­ing late in the cam­paign. (More on that in a minute.)

But Trump con­tin­ued to in­sist he would make Mex­ico cough up the money, though he never de­tailed how he would do that.

Through­out the cam­paign he de­scribed a wall that would be made of thick pre­cast con­crete slabs and soar 35 to 40 feet into the air.

“It’s go­ing to be a high wall; it’s go­ing to be beau­ti­ful,” he said, adding that it was go­ing to be “so easy” to make Mex­ico pay for it.

But it wasn’t long be­fore cracks be­gan to ap­pear in his vi­sion of a wall along the bor­der, where in many places, ex­perts said, it could not be con­structed be­cause of im­pass­able ter­rain. At best, the wall would be about 1,000 miles long.

Then, when the time came to pass this year’s deficit-laden $1.3 tril­lion bud­get, Congress be­gan to have sec­ond thoughts about Trump’s wall, which many con­sid­ered to be a huge boon­dog­gle. And by this time, the ad­min­is­tra­tion had re­duced its re­quest to $25 bil­lion.

But Congress balked at giv­ing the pres­i­dent even that much money, even­tu­ally of­fer­ing him a measly $1.3 bil­lion that was to be used only for “pri­mary pedes­trian fenc­ing” and “sec­ondary fenc­ing” to backup ex­ist­ing fenc­ing.

Be­fore the bud­get bill ar­rived at the White House for his sig­na­ture, it was un­clear if Trump would sign it. Yet sign it he did, ar­gu­ing that if he ve­toed the bill, it would jeop­ar­dize the huge in­crease in new de­fense spend­ing.

Yet, soon af­ter he signed the bill, Trump told a group of Baltic lead­ers at a White House meet­ing last week (April 3) that “We’ve started build­ing the wall.”

In­cred­i­bly, de­spite bud­get lan­guage pro­hibit­ing the wall, Trump be­gan telling oth­ers that the wall was be­ing built any­way, the Wash­ing­ton Post’s “fact checker,” Glenn Kessler, re­ported this week.

“On March 28, he even tweeted pho­tographs and de­clared: ‘Great brief­ing this af­ter­noon on the start of our South­ern Bor­der WALL!’” Kessler writes.

“On March 30, he told a rally in Ohio that ‘you saw those beau­ti­ful pic­tures . ... We started build­ing our wall. I’m so proud of it. We started. We started. We have $1.6 bil­lion, and we’ve al­ready started.’”

In fact, what Trump had seen dur­ing a tour in Cal­i­for­nia in March were mere pro­to­types of a con­crete wall, not an ac­tual wall along the bor­der.

In­deed, the lan­guage in the ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill he signed into law specif­i­cally makes clear that “None of the $1.57 bil­lion ap­pro­pri­ated for bor­der pro­tec­tion may be used for those pro­to­types,” Kessler re­ported.

Is this a case of Trump in­vent­ing his own re­al­ity, or a fail­ure on the part of his se­nior ad­vis­ers to thor­oughly brief him on the bud­get bill’s con­tents?

When Trump met with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto in 2016 dur­ing a cam­paign trip to Mex­ico City to dis­cuss the wall, Trump told re­porters their dis­cus­sion was “sub­stan­tive, di­rect and con­struc­tive.”

“We dis­cussed the wall,” he said af­ter meet­ing pri­vately with Pena Ni­eto. “We didn’t dis­cuss pay­ment of the wall.”

But in a tweet fol­low­ing the event, Pena Ni­eto said that he made it clear to Trump that “Mex­ico will not pay for the wall -- and that the two went on to other top­ics af­ter­ward,” ac­cord­ing to a re­port filed by CBS News.

Trump con­tin­ued to in­sist Mex­ico would foot the bill for the wall un­til he was sworn into of­fice, when he asked Congress for the money as he had in­tended to do all along.

There’s a fa­mous re­mark about po­lit­i­cal chi­canery -of­ten at­trib­uted to Abra­ham Lin­coln -- that says: “You can fool all of the peo­ple some of the time, and some of the peo­ple all of the time, but you can’t fool all the peo­ple all the time.” ••• Don­ald Lambro has been cov­er­ing Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics for more than 50 years as a re­porter, edi­tor and com­men­ta­tor.

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