How the Border Wall, Trump’s Signature Campaign Promise, Turned Into a National Emergency

The president’s declaration comes after divisions and competing priorities in the White House allowed the barrier project to languish

President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S. southern border comes after two years of political neglect of his signature campaign promise, lost amid competing priorities and divisions within his administration, according to current and former White House officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers.

Mr. Trump on Friday said the move would allow him to supplement the $1.38 billion allotted for border barriers in the spending package approved by Congress—far short of the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump wanted. “We’re talking about an invasion of our country,” Mr. Trump said speaking from the Rose Garden in urgent terms familiar during his campaign.

The wall’s reemergence as a top priority within the White House came after the Republican Party’s loss of the House in November’s midterm election, and after goading from conservative media kept Mr. Trump focused on the border wall, current and former White House officials said.

It wasn’t until December, as some government offices entered a 35-day shutdown amid the fight over wall funding, that Mr. Trump assembled a team of advisers devoted to getting it built. They turned out to be a divided group.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, pushed for a broader deal with Democrats to provide protections for some immigrants living in the U.S. without permission, while Vice President Mike Pence sought to limit the scope of the negotiations. Mr. Kushner cautioned the president about issuing a national emergency order; Mick Mulvaney, newly installed as acting chief of staff, pressed for it.

Mr. Trump’s first-term wins had clear leaders: Former economic adviser Gary Cohn delivered on tax cuts. Former White House counsel Don McGahn shepherded two Supreme Court nominations onto the High Court, and Mr. Kushner is credited with pushing a criminal-justice overhaul that reduced prison sentences on some drug convictions.

The wall project had no such director. Last summer, a White House official seeking a senior aide in charge of the border wall was sent to Doug Fears, a deputy to national security adviser John Bolton. Mr. Fears, a rear admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard, is neither a senior administration official nor in charge of border-wall issues, a spokesman said.

By then, frustration was setting in with the president, and in August, he asked Mr. Mulvaney about declaring a national emergency. “You know, that makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Mulvaney told him. The then-budget director started working on plans, which were only finalized last week, according to a senior White House official.

“Easy”

As a candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump described building the wall as a simple job. He tied it to his identity as a builder, a career that dates to the 1960s when he joined his father’s real-estate company. As the author of “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump put his reputation as a negotiator on the line.

As Mr. Trump prepares for re-election—and for voters to scrutinize his record as president—he has adjusted his message. “If you think it’s easy with these people, it’s not easy,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Congress, during a rally last summer in West Virginia.
.. Another early advocate of the wall was Stephen K. Bannon, the Trump campaign’s chief executive who became Mr. Trump’s top strategist and senior counselor. The promise to build a wall “and eventually make Mexico pay for it” was written on a dry erase board in Mr. Bannon’s West Wing office, competing for attention among other campaign promises. It was one of more than four dozen pledges on the white board, organized by policy area.

On another office wall, Mr. Bannon listed the goals for Mr. Trump’s first 100 days in office, listed on 36 pages of computer paper taped together. The legislative agenda included the “End Illegal Immigration Act,” proposed legislation that would have made the wall a priority. It was never introduced.

The project was made tougher without a supportive constituency in Washington to pressure lawmakers. Labor unions don’t view the border wall as a job stimulus, and business didn’t see clear benefits to the bottom line.

“The mistake they made was not coming in right away and coming up with a plan,” said Tom Davis, a Republican former House lawmaker. “You wonder why they didn’t try to jam this through when Republicans controlled the House because it’s a lot more complicated now trying to convince Nancy Pelosi.”

In the first weeks of the Trump administration, Mr. Kushner raised tensions inside the West Wing when he entertained suggestions by Democratic lawmakers to secure wall money in exchange for supporting protections for immigrants protected under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

Mr. Kushner and Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, also left some West Wing aides with the impression that the president should put the wall on hold while renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

.. Messers. Kushner and Cohn later suggested outfitting the wall with solar panels, and possibly selling the energy to Mexico. The president loved the idea so much he adopted it as his own.
.. Advisers suggested that Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall through a renegotiated Nafta. The revised trade deal, which hasn’t been approved by Congress, includes no language about a border wall.

In March, Congress completed a $1.3 trillion spending package, but included just $1.6 billion for a border barrier, with most of the money intended to replace existing fencing. It banned the money from being spent on concrete slabs or any other of the wall prototypes the White House was considering.

Upset there wasn’t more money for the wall, Mr. Trump threatened to veto it. At an emergency meeting at the White House with his staff and Republican leaders, Mr. Trump learned that the spending bill incorporated all of the border wall money that was requested in the White House budget proposal.

“Who the f— put that in my request?” Mr. Trump shouted.

Mr. Trump directed his fury at Marc Short, then his legislative affairs director, while John Kelly, the former chief of staff was silent. Mr. Kelly was the Department of Homeland Security secretary when the agency made the request for border funds the year before.

Mr. Mulvaney, who assembled the White House’s budget proposal, privately encouraged the president to veto it and suggested Mr. Trump blame then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, who should have sought more wall money.

Mr. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Mr. Trump they would push for more wall money in the next round of spending bills at the end of the year. During the fall, Mr. Trump was energized by crowds chanting “built the wall” during his many midterm-election rallies.

Soon after the November election, it became clear to the White House that lawmakers weren’t interested in a fight over border-wall money. Mr. Trump decided to carry out his threat to close what he could of the U.S. government.

During the shutdown last month, Mr. Trump complained to conservative allies that Mr. Ryan should have pushed harder for wall funds. Last weekend, the president complained about it again during a meeting with a Republican member of the committee that negotiated the latest deal.

“Mr. President,” the Republican lawmaker said, “we gave you everything you asked for.”

Michael Wolff’s Withering Portrait of President Donald Trump

. A chronicler of media, power, and wealth, Wolff is also willing to dish the dirt, as he demonstrated in a gossipy tome about Rupert Murdoch, which was published in 2008.

.. After that book came out, there was an inquest inside Murdoch’s News Corporation into who had granted Wolff access.

.. as Wolff noted in a foreword to the paperback edition of the book, Murdoch was the person primarily responsible for the access he gained. The press baron “not only was (mostly) a patient and convivial interviewee but also opened every door I asked him to open,” Wolff wrote.

.. His original idea, he says, was to write a fly-on-the-wall account of Trump’s first hundred days. “The president himself encouraged this idea. But given the many fiefdoms in the White House that came into open conflict from the first days of the administration, there seemed no one person able to make this happen. Equally, there was no one to say ‘Go away.’ Hence I became more a constant interloper than an invited guest.”

.. Still, the over-all portrait that Wolff draws of a dysfunctional, bitterly divided White House in the first six months of Trump’s Presidency, before the appointment of John Kelly as chief of staff and the subsequent firing of Bannon, has the whiff of authenticity about it—and it echoes news coverage at the time.

.. during one Oval Office meeting, Bannon called Ivanka “a fucking liar,” to which Trump responded,“I told you this is a tough town, baby.”

.. Equally plausible is Wolff’s portrait of Trump as a one-dimensional figure who had no conception that he could win the 2016 election; little clue what to do after he did emerge victorious from the campaign trail; and virtually no interest in, or aptitude for, acquiring the skills and information needed to fulfill the role of President. “Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency,”

.. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate . . . . Some thought him dyslexic; certainly his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he didn’t have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate—total television.

.. Trump often retires in the early evening to his bedroom, where he has three television screens, and interrupts his viewing only to converse by telephone with his friends and cronies, some of them fellow-billionaires.

.. unconfirmed new anecdotes, too, about Trump’s sexism and narcissism. In one meeting, Wolff says, the President referred to Hope Hicks, his communications director, as “a piece of tail.”

.. described Sally Yates

.. Trump is, ultimately, a self-fixated performer rather than a politician, and his primary goal is to monopolize public attention.

.. This depiction probably understates Trump’s devotion to making money, as well as his racism and nativism, both of which go back decades.

.. Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, were adamantly opposed to firing Comey. “McGahn tried to explain that in fact Comey himself was not running the Russia investigation, that without Comey the investigation would proceed anyway,”

.. Chris Christie and Rudolph Giuliani, who “encouraged him to take the view that the DOJ was resolved against him; it was all part of a holdover Obama plot.”

.. the concern of Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, “channeled through his son and daughter-in-law, that the Kushner family [business] dealings were getting wrapped up in the pursuit of Trump.”

.. Jared and Ivanka “encouraged him, arguing the once possibly charmable Comey was now a dangerous and uncontrollable player whose profit would inevitably be their loss.”

Jared and Ivanka were urging the president on, but even they did not know that the axe would shortly fall. Hope Hicks . . . didn’t know. Steven Bannon, however much he worried that the president might blow, didn’t know. His chief of staff didn’t know. And his press secretary didn’t know. The president, on the verge of starting a war with the FBI, the DOJ, and many in Congress, was going rogue.

.. Wolff was surely right to stress the momentousness of the decision to get rid of the “rat”— Trump’s term for Comey.

.. five months after Comey’s firing, Bannon was predicting the collapse of Trump’s Presidency.

.. In any event, there would certainly not be a second term, or even an attempt at one. ‘He’s not going to make it,’ said Bannon at the Breitbart Embassy. ‘He’s lost his stuff.’ ”

Who Benefits from Trump’s NFL Rant?

Today, it’s not the military-industrial complex we have to fear threatening our republic. It’s the culture-war political-entertainment complex. The culture-war political-entertainment complex marries the power of those who gain from the culture war in political terms with those who gain from it in the ratings; both the politicians who engage in cultural battles and the media who pump those battles for increased revenue have a stake in the continued fracturing of the republic.

.. This is more or less unprecedented stuff for a president: It’s the purview of private business to determine what sort of behavior they wish to accept from their employees in terms of political protest. The president’s intervening smacks of governmental overreach. Imagine the conservative response, for example, if President Obama had suggested that Tim Tebow be fired for kneeling in prayer before games.

.. Viewers don’t benefit, either — now they can’t escape politics.

.. So, who does gain? Only the cultural figures who get to lead their constituents into battle over these newly drawn battle lines. Trump benefits politically. The media benefit from the additional traffic and coverage. The culture-war political-media complex has an interest in tearing apart the country for ratings and power. And that’s not going to stop so long as the American people see politics as entertainment and entertainment as politics.

Bannon: ‘No administration in history has been so divided’

Aug. 20 (UPI) — Steve Bannon, who left his job as U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Friday, says “no administration in history has been so divided among itself.”

In an interview with The Washington Post Saturday, Bannon said, “If the Republican Party on Capitol Hill gets behind the president on his plans and not theirs, it will all be sweetness and light, be one big happy family.”

But he also said he doesn’t expect some Republican leaders to suddenly back Trump’s plans for taxes, trade and a border wall.

“No administration in history has been so divided among itself about the direction about where it should go,” Bannon said.

Going Small on Health Care

The Democratic bill in 2010 delivered significantly to the party’s base; the Republican bill in 2017 delivers significantly only to the party’s donors.

.. In order to mitigate its unpopularity, Senate Republicans keep making their bill more like, well, Obamacare, which raises the question of why they’re attempting something so complex for such a modest end.

.. the smaller bill would repeal the individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance. It would replace it, as the Senate bill does, with a continuous-coverage requirement — a waiting period to purchase insurance if you go without it for more than two months.

.. Instead of wringing almost $800 billion out of Medicaid over 10 years, it would try to reduce the program’s spending by $250 billion — just enough for deficit neutrality.

.. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Eliminate the hated mandate, keep the exchanges stable, cut a few health care taxes, and pull Medicaid spending downward. Pass the package, declare victory, and pivot to tax reform.

.. Republicans could campaign in 2018 on the credible claim that they had maintained Obamacare’s coverage for most people who wanted it, while reducing its burdens on those who don’t.

.. the Republican Party is too divided on health care, too incompetently “led” by its president, and too confused about the details of health policy to do something that’s big and sweeping and also smart and decent and defensible.