President Donald Trump’s White House communications team is claiming inaccurately that there is border wall funding in the spending bill before Congress right now. The move comes as the administration is facing political heat for the failure to obtain federal appropriations in the new omnibus spending bill to pay for the construction of a border wall, as President Trump promised on the campaign trail.
The latest controversy began with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer Tweeting out photos of a levee wall along the border and see-through border fence that illegal aliens and drug and human traffickers regularly cut through. Spicer argued, without calling any of them a “wall” like the one Trump promised on the campaign trail, that the president “just negotiated a spending deal where we can build these.” He explicitly did not call the photos a “border wall” on his Twitter account.
.@POTUS just negotiated a spending deal where we can build these pic.twitter.com/UI4Wslx9wl
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) May 2, 2017
Technically, Spicer’s Tweet is accurate. The spending bill, which funds the government until the end of the fiscal year, does account for the construction of levee walls and extra steel fencing, but that is far short of the president’s campaign promise of an actual border wall.
But what Spicer did next was highly problematic and potentially hurts President Trump’s efforts to succeed later in the year in delivering an actual border wall when the next spending bill comes up in September. Spicer directed one of his deputies, Lindsay Walters, to call Breitbart News and pitch the photos in Spicer’s Tweet as a “border wall.”
Noting that Spicer directed her to call Breitbart News and argue that the photos represent a “border wall,” Walters pushed back when Breitbart News argued that a see-through fence and a levee wall do not constitute a “border wall” that fulfills President Trump’s campaign promise.
“There are two types of walls, a levee wall and a bollard wall,” Walters said in a follow-up email. “Both of which will help secure our borders.”
Technically, levee walls—or flood walls—are common parts of levees designed to deal with flooding. The Rio Grande river constitutes much of the U.S.-Mexico border, so levees—and “levee walls” as Walters argued—are a part of that. They are not meant for border security, but rather for flood management.
But, Walters said in a follow-up email that “A bollard wall and levee wall of this scale will prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the border.”
Walters and Spicer and others in the White House communications office have not answered why Spicer’s original Tweet did not include the term “wall” or “border wall,” but rather described them as “these.”
This all came after an earlier press briefing in which Spicer was flanked by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. Kelly reiterated the president’s commitment to building a real wall on the border and laid out his plans to do so. Mulvaney held up photographs of the steel fencing, claiming that was an improvement.
Lack of progress on a border wall ahead of the 2018 midterm elections would likely hurt Republicans in what would otherwise be a chance at another GOP landslide given the 2018 Senate map. And if there is lack of border wall progress by 2020, Trump could face a loss of his hardcore supporters in the Rust Belt from states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin–states he turned red for the first time in years thanks to promises to once and for all secure the border.
It is perhaps debatable how much Trump could have gotten this go-around out of the Democrats in Congress—who he rightfully ripped in his speech in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, this weekend as being complicit with drug cartels and gangs like MS-13 for blocking the wall for now. Some in his base would likely be willing to forgive him not funding the wall or starting construction until September or October, the next funding bill go-around, especially since the wall would become a clear election year issue heading into the midterms when Democrats who opposed it would need to explain to their constituents why they are against securing the border and protecting the country.
The real issue here is that at least some of President Trump’s staff and many Republicans party-wide are not serving him well or interested in implementing his agenda, many Trump allies inside and outside the White House told Breitbart News. Walters and Spicer have not answered multiple follow-up questions on whether or not they are working out a plan to get funding for a real wall in September and are prepared for this next political battle which could have dire implications for the president and his agenda. Trump allies who spoke with Breitbart News made very clear that they do not view this as the president’s fault, noting instead that Trump would be much better served if his team were better prepared on these matters—not just the communications team, but the congressional relations and government staffing teams as well.
“The greatest negotiator in the world did not fail the people that got him elected,” one Trump ally who regularly communicates with the president and his inner circle told Breitbart News. “His staff, more specifically the liberal staffers who do not know why or how he was elected, have failed his base. They dominate his ear and fail to give him the full scope of the disasters that are about to transpire, and more often than not they have proven that their loyalty lies not with Donald Trump but instead with Speaker Paul Ryan.”
Interestingly, one question Breitbart News has repeatedly asked Spicer over the course of several weeks is whether he is more loyal to Ryan or to Trump. He has refused to answer it. Walters, meanwhile, when on the phone with Breitbart News on Tuesday afternoon, acknowledged the question when Breitbart News asked it again and requested an answer from Spicer as to whether he is more loyal to Trump or Ryan. She said she would try to get one.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said this week that President Trump himself, and the White House overall, were not very involved in working on this bill—and that congressional Republicans took the lead, hence the Democrat wins and GOP failures. Schumer also advocated that Trump stay out of the next funding bill battle ahead of September, almost goading the president into a budget war. That is Trump’s next big test: Can he, now that he is familiar with the levers of power, successfully negotiate payment for a border wall in the next spending bill? Or can he find another way to get it done? Next time around, with the midterms looming, he may pay a steep price for politically outsourcing these projects to Capitol Hill leadership like Ryan—people who have a proven track record of failing him—or to staff who have repeatedly dropped the ball.
“The presidency has receded,” one senior GOP congressional aide told Breitbart News. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The administration is not involved in major discussions anymore. It’s President Ryan and quasi-Speaker Mark Meadows leading the way on major negotiations.”
Rick Manning, the president of Americans for Limited Government and a top outside Trump ally, concurred.
“It is tragic that this funding bill reflects Paul Ryan’s priorities but bears zero resemblance to those put forth by President Trump,” Manning said in an email. “If Paul Ryan is allowed to continue imposing his will, the President’s agenda will never get done and the GOP’s legitimacy to lead will be lost.”
“This is not what we voted for or supported,” a heavily-connected GOP donor who has contributed in the mid-six-figures in the last election cycle added. “We thought we were getting President Trump. Now we’re getting President Ryan. Not sure we are better off with Hillary or Paul Ryan.”
“President Ryan is making liberals blush with gratitude,” a high-ranking Senate GOP aide also told Breitbart News. “A tale as old as time, Republicans sell out and give Democrats an early Christmas.”
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