Amid shut­down, Trump vis­its Texas to boost ar­gu­ment for bor­der wall

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY PHILIP RUCKER AND FELI­CIA SONMEZ [email protected]­post.com feli­[email protected]­post.com Sonmez re­ported from Wash­ing­ton. Nick Miroff, Se­ung Min Kim and Dan Lamothe con­trib­uted to this re­port.

mcallen, tex. — Driv­ing home his claim that il­le­gal cross­ings have cre­ated a na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian and se­cu­rity cri­sis, Pres­i­dent Trump on Thursday took his case for a bor­der wall to this city in the Rio Grande Val­ley, one of the busi­est re­gions of the south­ern bor­der and the epi­cen­ter of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­tro­ver­sial fam­ily sep­a­ra­tions.

The visit came one day af­ter Trump abruptly walked out of bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions with Democrats in Wash­ing­ton aimed at ending the govern­ment shut­down, now near­ing the end of its third week and with no end in sight.

At a U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol sta­tion, where he at­tended a roundtable on im­mi­gra­tion and bor­der se­cu­rity, Trump con­tin­ued to urge Con­gress to pro­vide fund­ing for the con­struc­tion of a bor­der wall, which he main­tained would even­tu­ally be paid for by Mex­ico “many, many times over” through a new trade deal that has yet to be rat­i­fied by Con­gress.

“I didn’t mean, ‘Please write me a check,’ ” Trump said of his oft­made claim that Mex­ico would pay for the wall.

Dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, Trump’s cam­paign sent The Wash­ing­ton Post a memo de­tail­ing its plan for Mex­ico to make “a one­time pay­ment of $5-10 bil­lion” to pay for the bor­der wall.

Even if ap­proved by Con­gress, the new U.S.-Mex­ico-Canada trade deal would not nec­es­sar­ily con­trib­ute more money to fed­eral cof­fers, as coun­tries do not “lose” money on trade deficits.

Trump also blamed Democrats for the par­tial govern­ment shut­down, push­ing back against their crit­i­cism that the sit­u­a­tion at the bor­der was a cri­sis “man­u­fac­tured” by the White House.

“It’s not. What is man­u­fac­tured is the use of the word ‘ man­u­fac­tured,’ ” Trump said.

Join­ing him were Texas’s two U.S. sen­a­tors, Repub­li­cans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, as well as Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen, U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sioner Kevin McAleenan and the head of the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers, Lt. Gen. Todd T. Se­monite.

Also par­tic­i­pat­ing in the roundtable were rel­a­tives of law en­force­ment of­fi­cers who were killed or sus­pected to have been killed by peo­ple who were in the United States il­le­gally. Trump has fre- quently sought to rally pub­lic sup­port for his im­mi­gra­tion mes­sage at events with “an­gel fam­i­lies,” the term his ad­min­is­tra­tion uses for those af­fected by crimes com­mit­ted by un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.

Cruz, who was a fierce ri­val of Trump’s dur­ing the 2016 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­maries, wel­comed the pres­i­dent to Texas and de­clared that “the Amer­i­can peo­ple want the bor­der se­cure.”

“Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion pro­duces tragedies each day. . . . When we see politi­cians go on TV and say the bor­der’s se­cure and there is no cri­sis, they are ig­nor­ing re­al­ity,” Cruz said.

Trump later took a tour along the Rio Grande, where he re­ceived a se­cu­rity brief­ing. Trump also will sit for an interview at the bor­der with Fox News Chan­nel host Sean Han­nity, one of the pres­i­dent’s friends and out­side ad­vis­ers.

Trump’s visit to McAllen put him a few miles away from where the Army es­tab­lished early in Novem­ber a base camp in the town of Donna from which to carry out bor­der op­er­a­tions. Sol­diers pri­mar­ily strung con­certina wire and added other bar­ri­ers to slow ac­cess to the United States from the south.

But in one ma­jor sign that that op­er­a­tion is wind­ing down, the mil­i­tary has with­drawn all troops from South Texas, in­clud­ing at the camp in Donna. Troops in­volved in bor­der sup­port in Texas are now all based in San An­to­nio, where they are as­signed to a head­quar­ters, said Mike Kucharek, a mil­i­tary spokesman. The mil­i­tary closed Base Camp Donna near McAllen shortly be­fore Christ­mas, about five weeks af­ter Nielsen and thenDe­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis vis­ited sol­diers there.

Trump’s visit to the south­ern bor­der has been or­ches­trated to con­vey ur­gency about build­ing a wall and comes as the pres­i­dent is weigh­ing whether to de­clare a na­tional emergency at the bor­der — a risky move that would trig­ger ex­ec­u­tive powers for him to con­struct the wall with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval but also in­vite court chal­lenges and po­lit­i­cal blow­back.

“I have the ab­so­lute right to de­clare a na­tional emergency,” Trump told re­porters as he left the White House to fly to Texas. “I haven’t done it yet. I may do it. If this doesn’t work out, prob­a­bly I will do it. I would al­most say def­i­nitely.”

Trump said that he is not ready yet to de­clare an emergency and that he prefers to work with Con­gress. He added that he is will­ing to com­pro­mise.

“I would like to do the deal through Con­gress,” he said. “It makes sense to do the deal through Con­gress. . . . It would be nice if we can make a deal, but deal­ing with these peo­ple is ridicu­lous.”

McAllen has be­come a fo­cal point in the de­bate over im­mi­gra­tion.

Over the past decade, it and the sur­round­ing Rio Grande Val­ley have be­come the busi­est place along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der for il­le­gal cross­ings, and a place where U.S. au­thor­i­ties have strug­gled to cope with a mi­gra­tion shift from sin­gle adults to fam­i­lies, teens and chil­dren.

Trump’s first stop Thursday was McAllen’s Bor­der Pa­trol sta­tion. Its hold­ing cells be­came so over­crowded dur­ing a 2014 cri­sis that the govern­ment bought a nearby ware­house, con­vert­ing it into a pro­cess­ing cen­ter for fam­i­lies and chil­dren.

Trump is not plan­ning to visit that fa­cil­ity, whose chain-link de­ten­tion pens were likened to cages dur­ing the pres­i­dent’s “zero-tol­er­ance” crack­down last spring, when the govern­ment sep­a­rated thou­sands of mi­grant chil­dren from their par­ents un­til a pub­lic out­cry forced the White House to stop.

The pres­i­dent’s itin­er­ary Thursday also took him to the Rio Grande and to the banks of the wind­ing river, where the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to add dozens of miles of fenc­ing. Be­cause of the river’s me­an­der­ing course, the bar­ri­ers would be built pri­mar­ily along flood lev­ees, po­ten­tially leav­ing pri­vate farms and ranches in a no man’s land be­tween the barrier and the bor­der.

Large tracts of pri­vate prop­erty would have to be ac­quired by the govern­ment to cre­ate space for the wall and ser­vice roads, driv­ing up con­struc­tion costs, and sev­eral farm­ers and ranch­ers in the McAllen area say they will chal­lenge the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan in court.

Thursday’s visit was Trump’s sec­ond to the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der as pres­i­dent. Last year, he trav­eled to the San Diego area, where he viewed wall pro­to­types. First lady Me­la­nia Trump trav­eled to the McAllen area last year amid the fam­ily-sep­a­ra­tions cri­sis to visit mi­grant chil­dren at a bor­der shel­ter.

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