President Trump, in a late-night tweet on Tuesday, implied that he approves of a compromise deal on border security necessary to avert a government shutdown before Friday’s midnight deadline.
As details of the bipartisan agreement came into view during the day, the president refrained from taking a firm position, saying he was not “happy at first glance,” while also insisting, without evidence or explanation, that the proposed spending would not impede his plan to “build a beautiful, big, strong wall.” The president has previously claimed that he has the power to declare a national emergency to free up the funds.
But by the end of Tuesday, he had adopted an upbeat tone, praising Republican leaders for their efforts, which could make it difficult for him to turn around and reject the product of their work.
He appeared to justify what his base views as the deal’s defects by labeling Democratic negotiators the “Radical Left.” The charge, designed to expose Democratic divisions as the party goes about choosing a presidential nominee, has become a favored weapon in the president’s rhetorical arsenal.
Trump also asserted that the wall is already “being built.” While no new miles of the barrier on the southern border have been added under the Trump administration, according to fact checks, construction was set to begin this month on 14 new miles in the Rio Grande Valley near McAllen, Tex. Some existing defenses have also been refurbished.
The compromise includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new fencing along the border, vastly less than the $5.7 billion that Trump had demanded for 234 miles of steel barricades. That demand on the federal budget, which replaced the president’s original promise that Mexico would pay for the wall, propelled the country into the longest government shutdown in American history, exacting a painful price on his public approval.
When Trump backed down at the end of January, agreeing to reopen the government without the desired wall funding, his allies — or onetime allies — in conservative media grew incensed.
Some of the same voices made their disappointed known on Tuesday. Ann Coulter, the right-wing provocateur who once referred to Trump as her “emperor god” and now calls herself a “former Trumper,” again characterized him as weak for failing to “fight” for the wall.
Disapproval was apparent even among those who remain loyal to the president, and whose punditry he loyally follows. Sean Hannity, the Fox News host who reportedly has Trump’s ear, called the agreement a “garbage new compromise” on his show Tuesday night.
“We haven’t seen the language, nor has the White House — sources are telling me that it’s still being worked out — but if Democrats are going to put a lot of restrictions on wall construction, in other words that it’s not really wall money, this is not a bill the president will be able to sign,” Hannity said, in an apparent reference to Democratic efforts to reduce the number of immigrants held in detention.
Fox’s Laura Ingraham opened her show Tuesday with a rhymed warning for viewers: “The border wall becomes a border stall.”
“I hate to tell you I told you so, but I told you so,” she said. “When the White House and the GOP failed to act on the Trump immigration agenda in the first 100 days of his presidency, his pledge to build the wall would be jeopardized.”
Instead of lambasting the president, she appealed to his sense of pride. Praising his “initial instinct, which is usually spot on,” she described him as a hostage of the Washington “swamp.”
She considered him wise for not signing a spending bill last year that included only $1.6 billion for 65 miles of fencing. But then he was duped, she said, by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the majority leader, and former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who “promised him that they would get this wall funded in full in the lame duck session if that was necessary. Well big shocker — that never happened.”
Now, he has been left with even less money for even fewer miles of the wall promised to his base.
If that fact bothered him, Trump didn’t show it Tuesday night, even as his channel of choice sounded an alarm about the agreement he was being asked to endorse.
Instead, he broadcast a cheery, even sentimental, mood on social media, retweeting a video from “Life on Earth” of a pair of big cats yawning and nuzzling each other. It was a departure from his usual fare of boasts and insults. But users hardly embraced the gesture, instead responding with images of the president’s two eldest sons on safari, including one of the adult men holding a dead leopard.
As congressional leaders tried to sell the president on their compromise, the White House and immigration hardliners on Capitol Hill saw support for their position in the conviction Tuesday of Joaquín Guzmán, the infamous drug lord known as “El Chapo.” Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said in a tweet that the guilty verdict showed, “we must secure our border.” Trump, for his part, has claimed that the wall would “help stop drugs.”
But testimony in the “El Chapo” trial suggested otherwise. The kingpin’s associates told a New York courtroom last month how they shifted their operations from underground tunnels to trucks and other vehicles that allowed them to slip through legal ports of entry. Similarly, the illegal crossings that loom large in the president’s doomsday depiction of the border actually account for a narrow share of the people in the country unlawfully.
The verdict in the high-profile case also became fuel for a quest by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to funnel the drug lord’s assets, which are being sought by prosecutors, into funding for the wall.
The effort marks a shift from the president’s repeated pledge that Mexico would fund the barrier. Instead, a petition circulated by the Texas senator and 2016 presidential contender proclaims, “Build the Wall & Make El Chapo Pay.”
In April 2017, Cruz introduced the EL CHAPO Act, short for the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act. The bill, which has more than a dozen conservative sponsors, would earmark any money recovered from the infamous criminal “for security measures along the Southern border, including the completion of a border wall.”
U.S. attorneys in New York, in their indictment, said they wanted to recover more than $14 billion from narcotics sales and other illicit profits, but that could prove difficult. Reporting by Forbes suggests that Guzmán’s net worth could be much lower. And the majority of the assets that do exist are likely to lie in Mexican territory.