Give Me a Crash Course In . . . The US bor­der wall

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Suzanne Lynch Wash­ing­ton Cor­re­spon­dent

Why is Trump’s wall back in the news?

Don­ald Trump’s hard­line im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy – and in par­tic­u­lar his pledge to build a wall on the United States’ south­ern bor­der – has come un­der re­newed fo­cus in re­cent weeks as the US Congress en­ters the fi­nal stage of bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions be­fore the end of the year.

The threat of a par­tial govern­ment shut­down has loomed in the fi­nal few days of the cur­rent Congress as law­mak­ers have been try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate fund­ing pri­or­i­ties. In par­tic­u­lar Don­ald Trump is seek­ing at least $5 bil­lion for bor­der se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing for his pro­posed bor­der wall. But Democrats have only been pre­pared to of­fer $1.3 bil­lion for bor­der se­cu­rity is­sues.

What has Trump’s re­ac­tion been?

The row about the bor­der fund­ing cul­mi­nated in a very pub­lic spat be­tween Trump and the top two Democrats in Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer 10 days ago. On TV, Trump’s at­tempt at ne­go­ti­a­tions de­scended into ac­ri­mony, with Schumer goad­ing Trump into declar­ing de­fi­antly that he would be pre­pared to shut down the fed­eral govern­ment in or­der to get his fund­ing for the bor­der wall. “I am proud to shut down the govern­ment for bor­der se­cu­rity, Chuck,” Trump said. “Peo­ple in this coun­try don’t want crim­i­nals and peo­ple that have lots of prob­lems and drugs pour­ing into our coun­try.”

So is the govern­ment go­ing to shut­down?

It’s very pos­si­ble. The past few days have seen an ex­tra­or­di­nary se­ries of U-turns by the pres­i­dent. On Wed­nes­day, the Se­nate voted to en­dorse a short-term mea­sure to fund the govern­ment un­til Fe­bru­ary and give ne­go­tia­tors some breath­ing room, but the “con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion” did not con­tain money for the pres­i­dent’s wall. Ini­tially the pres­i­dent didn’t seem to mind. De­spite con­tin­u­ally in­sist­ing that you can’t have good bor­der se­cu­rity with­out a wall, he said that there had been in fact too much talk of the bor­der wall which was dis­tract­ing from the “great job be­ing done on our South­ern Bor­der.” Sim­i­larly, he ar­gued that Mex­ico would in­deed pay for the wall in­di­rectly through the sav­ings Amer­ica will make through the rene­go­ti­ated Nafta trade agree­ment.

So Don­ald Trump came round and the shut­down won’t hap­pen?

No. Trump stunned his own party and mar­kets by an­nounc­ing on Thurs­day that he in fact will shut down the govern­ment if he doesn’t get bor­der fund­ing. The move left mem­bers of Congress – many of whom had left Wash­ing­ton for Christ­mas – scram­bling to try and find a leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion to the prob­lem on Fri­day.

It seems Trump was taken aback by the re­ac­tion to his ap­par­ent ca­pit­u­la­tion on his wall. Con­ser­va­tive mem­bers of his own party re­acted with dis­be­lief at his U-turn. Trump ally Mark Mead­ows, the head of the “Free­dom Cau­cus”, a group of about 40 con­ser­va­tive Re­pub­li­cans in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, said that the pres­i­dent’s base “will go crazy” if fund­ing for the bor­der wall is not pro­vided. Fox News also weighed in, with fig­ures such as Laura In­gra­ham lam­bast­ing Trump for cav­ing in on a cam­paign promise.

What has the re­ac­tion been?

Trump’s re­fusal to sign a short-term bill that would avert a govern­ment shut­down has thrown the US po­lit­i­cal scene into chaos just days be­fore Christ­mas. Stock mar­kets fell sharply on Thurs­day as a re­sult. Trump’s flip-flop­ping on the bor­der wall and short-term fund­ing bill co­in­cided with his snap de­ci­sion to pull troops out of Syria, his pos­si­ble with­drawal of thou­sands of troops from Afghanistan and the res­ig­na­tion of his De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis. The chain of events in the fi­nal days of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal term have added to a sense of an ad­min­is­tra­tion in chaos.

A re­in­forced sec­tion of the US-Mex­ico bor­der fence is seen from Ti­juana. PHO­TO­GRAPH: GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP

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