By Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images.
In the latest blow to his deal-maker persona, Donald Trump appears poised to sign the border-security deal a bipartisan panel of Capitol Hill negotiators struck late Monday, despite the fact that it allots the president less money in barrier funding than he was offered last year, before he shut down the government for five weeks. The president has made clear he’s no fan of the agreement, but with no Republican appetite for a second shutdown or unilateral action by the White House, and a Friday deadline looming, he may not have much of a choice—even as he leaves open the possibility of finding “other sources” to get the sum he’s spent months demanding. “I’m not happy about it,” Trump told reporters of the deal on Tuesday. “It’s not doing the trick. But I’m adding things to it, and when you add whatever I have to add—it’s all gonna happen where we’re gonna build a beautiful, big, strong wall.”
“It’s very simple,” he said.
It makes sense that Trump isn’t thrilled about the deal. It includes just $1.375 billion for border fencing—far less than the nearly $6 billion he’d been seeking to build a concrete wall, and less even than the $1.6 billion Chuck Schumer had offered him before Trump shut down the government last year. For the guy who authored Art of the Deal, it’s unquestionably a defeat—a fact his base has already picked up on. Rep. Mark Meadows, one of Trump’s top Hill allies, said on Monday that the bill “does not represent a fraction of what the president has promised the American people” and suggested he shouldn’t sign it. Sean Hannity, Trump’s Fox News id, called the funding measure a “garbage compromise” when details first emerged.
But Hannity has since softened, saying he’s “not as concerned” about Trump signing what he’d previously described as an “insane” deal—as long as he also declares a national emergency to get the rest of the money for the wall. “The president would need to declare a national emergency,” Hannity said Tuesday. “This is the time. That is a necessity.” Trump, too, has hinted that he could pull additional cash from “other sources,” a possible reference to the nuclear option he’s been threatening for weeks. “Was just presented the concept and parameters of the Border Security Deal by hard working Senator Richard Shelby,” Trump tweeted Tuesday evening. “Looking over all aspects knowing that this will be hooked up with lots of money from other sources. . . . Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak!”
There is more than one way for the White House to tap those “other sources,” although each comes with potential legal hurdles. As Politico reported on Monday, the White House has already developed plans to redirect unspent federal dollars as part of an executive order that would bypass Congress without requiring an emergency declaration. “There are certain sums of money that are available to the president, to any president,” Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney explained Sunday on Meet the Press. “So you comb through the law at the president’s request . . . And there’s pots of money where presidents, all presidents, have access to without a national emergency.” Experts say the move would almost certainly provoke a challenge.
For now, at least, Trump’s signature on the bipartisan border deal would avert another destructive shutdown. But it’s not a done deal just yet. While the funding measure was agreed to in principle, Politico reported Wednesday that lawmakers have discovered some unresolved areas of contention as they’ve worked to finalize it. That could be troublesome with a Friday deadline fast approaching—especially when the ultimate decision comes down to an unpredictable president whose whims can change with the wind.
More Great Stories from Vanity Fair
— The leaking, gossiping, and infighting that made Kellyanne Conway a formidable White House player
— Why old news habits must die—so that real journalism can live
— Nancy Pelosi is America’s most powerful power-suit boss
— Is Kamala Harris the 2020 candidate to beat?
— Your passport to Vanity Fair’s 25th Hollywood Issue with Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Chadwick Boseman, and more
Looking for more? Sign up for our daily Hive newsletter and never miss a story.