Donald Trump speaks as Senator Ted Cruz looks on, McAllen, Texas, January 10, 2019
Donald Trump has had his picture taken on the US-Mexico border as the Trump Shutdown enters its 21st day.
Despite his opposition to the publicity trip, pressed by White House communications staff, Trump flew to McAllen, Texas for a brief stay. He posed with border agents and stood near the Rio Grande, issuing a series of false and confusing statements.
There was no sign of Trump relenting on his shutdown of the Federal Government, which started at midnight on December 21 when Trump insisted on $5.7 billion for his Wall with Mexico and rejected a unananimously-adopted Senate bill keeping the Government open and including $1.3 billion for border security.
At times, Trump blatantly lied, declaring that he had never said Mexico would “write a check” to pay for the $25 billion Wall. In fact, Trump used those exact words in a 2016 interview with his friend Sean Hannity on Fox TV.
President Trump: "When during the campaign, I would say 'Mexico is going to pay for it.' Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they are going to write out a check." https://t.co/5z87mwlpQN pic.twitter.com/9cvRsDdhgR
— The Hill (@thehill) January 10, 2019
Trump repeated his threat, “We can declare a national emergency [though] we shouldn’t have to.”
Trump has indicated he could use the emergency to bypass Congress and divert money from US agencies — including from disaster relief — for the Wall. Despite expectations, he did not announce the step in a Tuesday prime-time TV address, his first as President, but his advisors have urged to keep using the word “crisis” to justify the option.
At one point, Trump appeared to contradict his Vice President Mike Pence with a reference to a compromise in which “Dreamers”, children who came to the US with undocumented immigrant parents, could get legal status: “I would like to do a much broader form of immigration. We could help the Dreamers.”
In March 2018, Trump rejected a deal which gave him full funding of the Wall in return for a path to citizenship for about 800,000 Dreamers. Earlier on Thursday, Pence ruled out any return to compromise, saying the Administration will wait until a Supreme Court ruling on the program allowing the Dreamers to stay, study, and work in the US.
Pence also privately told Republican legislators that Trump will not support a proposal reopening the Government for three weeks while discussions continue on border security and the Dreamers.
“It kind of fell apart,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally.
Graham continued, “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier. I hope it works.”
Administration officials are still debating the emergency declaration, with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly oppose until all other approaches are pursued.
Meanwhile, Trump attempted an extraordinary comparison, in conversation with Hannity:
Trump to Hannity, making the case for a border wall: "You know, I’m looking at all these very expensive cars all over here loaded up with machine guns and every single one of them has wheels." pic.twitter.com/wjRVATGBZx
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) January 11, 2019
Diversion of Disaster Funds for The Wall?
An official has said that the Trump Administration is considering the funding of the Wall through the diversion of billions of dollars in unspent Defense Department disaster recovery and military construction funds.
Congress appropriated $14 billion in supplemental funds to repair infrastructure in areas struck by disasters, such as Hurricane Maria which struck Puerto Rico in 2017 and caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.
The official said the Pentagon was asked to provide lists of recently-received unspent funds, including those earmarked for civil works projects in Puerto Rico, Texas, California, in Florida.
More than $13 billion has not yet been disbursed but has been promised. Puerto Rico is awaiting more than $2 billion, and Texas more than $4.5 billion, including for repairs after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Earlier this week, in an inexplicable outburst, Trump threatened the withholding of disaster funds from California after devastating fires, including a November 2018 blaze that was the deadliest and most destructive in state history.
Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2019
Employees Demonstrate Outside White House
Hundreds of government workers protested outside the White House on Thursday.
Marching from the AFL-CIO union headquarters, workers carried signs such as “My paycheck is not leverage for 45’s [45th President Trump’s] racism” and “We want work, not walls”.
Several protestors wore bright vests with the inscription, “I am a worker, I demand a voice”.
A Federal Aviation Administration employee, on unpaid work, explained the difficulties for his family and “having to explain a political stunt to a 5-year-old”.
A National Weather Service employee, who drove to the rally after eight night shifts, said, “It’s difficult to serve your country when things are unraveling at home.”
He told the crowd about a co-worker who is unable to pay for treatment of seizures — which her doctor says may increase with stress from the shutdown.
Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to the rally, thanking them for “standing up for justice” and urging Trump to “grow up, do your job and end this shutdown”.