The Morning Jolt

White House

Trump’s ‘Great Wall’ Isn’t What’s Being Built

Construction workers place a section of new bollard wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in Santa Teresa, N.M., April 23, 2018. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: what you’re not hearing about the slowly spreading wall or bollard fence along our southern border, trying to make sense of President Trump’s negotiating strategy in the funding fight, an ugly scene in France, and some kind words for the Three Martini Lunch podcast.

What You’re Not Hearing about the Slowly Growing Border Wall/Bollard Fence

Trump in yesterday’s meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi: “One thing that I do have to say is, tremendous amounts of wall have already been built, and a lot of — a lot of wall. When you include the renovation of existing fences and walls, we’ve renovated a tremendous amount and we’ve done a lot of work.”

As I’ve detailed in two articles for NRO, it is more accurate to say that under previously passed legislation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to pay contractors to replace sections of spotty or insufficient fencing with 18-foot-tall bollard walls — tall steel bars with gaps in between them so that Border Patrol officers can see what’s happening on the other side. (A border-wall contractor argued in March, “If your wall is see-through, you’re basically a fence.” For what it’s worth, the Border Patrol prefers the slats because it’s easier to see migrants approaching, attempting to climb the wall, or trying to evade authorities.)

You can get a sense of the bollard wall in this CBP photo of Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan touring the San Ysidro port of entry with Rodney S. Scott, the chief patrol agent for San Diego Sector, and CNN reporter Chris Cuomo.

About 40 miles worth of old, damaged, or porous fencing have been replaced or are being replaced by bollard fencing in six spots, near the communities of Calexico and San Diego in California; Santa Teresa in New Mexico; and McAllen and Mercedes in Texas.

The 18-foot-wall is not impossible to climb, but not easy, either. On Friday, a pair of Guatemalan teens sustained severe injuries after they fell off the wall while attempting to illegally enter near Yuma, Ariz. According to CBP, “Border Patrol agents arrived on scene and requested assistance from local Emergency Medical Services. Additional Border Patrol agents certified as Emergency Medical Technicians arrived with a backboard and assisted EMS with stabilizing the two subjects. The remaining four illegal aliens were taken into custody.”

The wall has signs posted reminding people that climbing is dangerous:

(It is not exaggerating to say that U.S. Customs and Border Protection does something dramatic and fascinating every couple of days. They seized more than a ton of cocaine from a boat in the Eastern Pacific on December 2. CBP seized nearly $7 million worth of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin hidden in a tractor trailer at the border crossing near Pharr, Texas on December 9. They caught more than 240 people, largely Guatemalan nationals, in a 48-hour period this weekend, near the Lukeville, Ariz. port of entry. Also this weekend, agents patrolling near Hidalgo, Texas, captured two groups, totaling 172 illegal aliens from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, comprised of family units and unaccompanied children.)

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump made his wall project sound like building the equivalent of the Great Wall of China from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico; in January 2016, he said, “My ambition is for ours to be much higher” than the Great Wall, and a month later, he described it as “probably 35 to 40 feet up in the air.” Obviously, that’s not what’s being built. But from the way Trump is talking now — “tremendous amounts of wall have already been built” — in his mind, this is close enough.

Not all of his supporters may agree. As Ann Coulter sees it, “Not one inch of Trump’s wall has been built.”

The Art of the Deal Is Apparently Abstract

That, of course, is what makes this current ongoing fight over a spending bill different from all the others — it’s probably Trump’s last chance to get a big chunk of funding for “the wall.” If Trump runs for reelection with just 40 miles of bollard fencing complete, he’s probably toast. People voted for him because they believed he could get things done.

The irony is that back in January, Senate Democrats were willing to agree to $20 billion (some reports said $25 billion) in funding for the wall — in exchange for “Trump’s support of permanent protections for the nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants covered under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.” The author of The Art of the Deal got a major concession, then asked for even more, then walked away with no deal.

Trump is going about these negotiations with some . . . counter-intuitive moves. For starters, he tossed away the option of blaming Democrats for a government shutdown, declaring on camera in the Oval Office that he’s “proud to shut down the government” to get additional border security funds.

THE PRESIDENT:  You know what I’ll say: Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other — whether it’s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call — I will shut down the government.  Absolutely.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER SCHUMER:  Okay.  Fair enough.  We disagree.

THE PRESIDENT:  And I am proud — and I’ll tell you what —


THE PRESIDENT:  I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country.  So I will take the mantle.  I will be the one to shut it down.  I’m not going to blame you for it.  The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work.  I will take the mantle of shutting down.

Second, Trump is gambling that in a government shutdown, his leverage increases. The political risks of a shutdown are probably smaller than usual, as the elections in November 2020 are not likely to be strongly influenced by a shutdown in December 2018 that perhaps extends into January 2019. But once January 3 arrives, Nancy Pelosi has a stronger hand than she does now, shifting from having 194 Democrats to having 235 Democrats.

Then again, if we’re heading into a presidency-defining fight, then maybe congressional Democrats are wildly misreading Trump’s incentives here. Surrendering on wall funding amounts to accepting defeat in 2020. A government shutdown hits federal workers hardest — right before Christmas! — and Trump doesn’t see them as part of his base anyway.

As Kevin Williamson writes today:

Republicans used to fear being blamed for [shutdowns], a part of the more general Republican tendency to fear being blamed for things. But they have discovered that the political price for these acts of theater is pretty low. They are slow learners, but they learn — or at least they can, where there is a question of self-preservation. Mainly, shutdowns inconvenience the federal workers who get furloughed, which upsets their household finances. One feels for them. What’s rarely said aloud but surely appreciated by Republicans is that practically all of them are Democrats, as are the great majority of non-military government employees. If you have to hurt somebody, very few Republican voters are going to weep for the bureaucracy.

Republicans might also ask, “What is a government shutdown going to do? Cost us our majority in the House?”

But Trump might be misreading the motivations and incentives of Democrats, too. Trump taunted Chuck Schumer yesterday, “The last time, Chuck, you shut it down, and then you opened it up very quickly.” Indeed, that is a reasonably accurate description of what happened in January’s three-day shutdown, but Schumer was worried about red-state Democrats such as Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, Bill Nelson, Joe Donnelly, and Joe Manchin back then. Schumer had a strong incentive to keep that quintet (and maybe a few more) out of difficult votes in early 2018; he doesn’t have nearly as strong an incentive to compromise now.

It’s likely that a Democratic argument about Trump in 2020 will be, “He can’t govern. It’s constant chaos. The circus came to town and it never left. Tirades, tantrums, brinksmanship, threats, sudden shifts, reversed positions — it’s endless drama that prevents the government from doing its job.” Warren G. Harding ran on the slogan, “A Return to Normalcy.” Democrats will contend that multiple shutdowns (not counting one that lasted less than a day in February) are another sign that Trump exacerbates Washington’s problems instead of solving them.

The Only Terrorists I Want to See around Christmastime Are in Die Hard

Another jihadist who was on the “watch list” but should have been on the “do something about him list.”

A suspect on a terrorist watch list was being hunted Wednesday after three people were killed and more than a dozen others wounded in a shooting near a Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg.

Police had raided the suspect’s home hours before Tuesday’s attack as part of a burglary probe.

Cultural sites and sports centers were closed on Wednesday as 350 police officers were deployed in the manhunt.

The shooting took place shortly before 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET) near a Christmas market that attracts millions of tourists every year. Strasbourg considers itself the “capital of Christmas.”

The suspect fled the scene and exchanged shots with police between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. local time, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. He said the suspect has a criminal record in France and Germany.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Townhall for listing the Three Martini Lunch podcast among the “Top 20 Conservative Podcasts Keeping You Sane From Left-Wing America.” Greg Corombos and I are about to start our 3ML End of the Year Awards, which we usually air between Christmas and New Year’s.