In visit to Texas, Trump makes stand for border wall
President Donald Trump arrived in this border town Thursday on a trip that he did not want to take to discuss a crisis that Democrats say does not exist, repeating his request for a long-promised border wall that has led to a bitter political impasse and a 20-day government shutdown.
Flanked by Border Patrol officers, as well as Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, and a cache of drugs, cash and weapons seized by authorities at the border, Trump again blamed the protracted shutdown affecting vast swaths of the federal government on Democrats. He reiterated an untrue claim that Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall through a revamped trade agreement, and heard from people who had loved ones killed by immigrants.
“If we had a barrier of any kind, whether it’s steel or concrete,” Trump said of tragic stories involving violence and human trafficking, “they wouldn’t even bother trying. We could stop that cold.”
But as the government shutdown neared the end of its third week, the president left Washington with no additional negotiations scheduled with congressional leaders over a possible compromise that could both provide border security and open the government. In remarks to reporters Thursday, Trump did not rule out declaring a state of national emergency that could allow him to bypass Congress to fund the wall.
Asked if he would make such a declaration, an action that would likely face legal challenges, Trump said: “If this doesn’t work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.”
In the meeting with Border Patrol officials, Trump did not emphasize the need for an emergency, but invited locals to help him make his case.
A local pastor declared the problem a “humanitarian crisis.” Border Patrol officers used visual aids showing stash houses, road checkpoints and drug caches to emphasize the demand for border security and a wall. And at one point, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who waged a brutal political battle with the president as an opponent during the 2016 primaries, praised Trump for “infusing more backbone” in the capital.
“When we see politicians go on TV and say the border’s secure and there is no crisis,” Cruz said, “they are ignoring reality.”
Trump repeated his demand for the money from Congress while telling the group that Mexico would somehow provide funds indirectly for the wall, a contradiction of what he said in December when he wrote in a Twitter post, “I often stated, ‘One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.’”
“I didn’t say they’re going to write me a check for $10 billion or $20 billion,” Trump said Thursday. “If Congress approves this trade bill, they'll pay for the wall many times over. When I say Mexico’s going to pay for the wall, that’s what I mean.”
The new trade deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, does not stipulate that Mexico provide funds for the wall, and has not been approved by Congress.
In Texas, Trump listened to tearful stories from people who described violent deaths of siblings and sons, including one woman whose son, a Border Patrol agent, had been killed by an unauthorized immigrant.
“Thank you,” Trump said as he walked over to hug her. “I’m very proud of you right now.”
Before Air Force One landed in Texas on Thursday, a crowd of supporters with flags and “build the wall” signs gathered near the Rio Grande.
The president maintains he has the option of declaring a national emergency to fund construction for the wall, perhaps the central promise that he made to his political base during his campaign, and bypassing a legislative solution. The head of the Army Corps of Engineers traveled with Trump to Texas on Thursday. Redirecting funds from the Army’s construction agency to build the wall is one option Trump could use in a national emergency.
Trump said he had the legal authority to make the declaration. “This is a thing that the lawyers tell me is 100 percent,” Trump said.
If the president were to declare a national emergency, which some legal experts say is within his authority, it is sure to stoke debate in Congress.
To bolster his campaign for the wall, the president also scheduled an interview with Fox host Sean Hannity. Hannity is one of the president’s highest-profile supporters and is highly influential among his political base.
The president’s trip came a month before some bollard wall construction in the area, based on a previous congressional appropriation, is set to begin.
THE NEW TRADE DEAL, THE U.S.-MEXICOCANADA AGREEMENT, DOES NOT STIPULATE THAT MEXICO PROVIDE FUNDS FOR THE WALL, AND HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED BY CONGRESS.
President Donald Trump speaks at a roundtable on immigration and border security Thursday at U.S. Border Patrol McAllen Station in McAllen, Texas. At left, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen listens.