Finish the Wall?

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People wait for former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke to arrive on stage at an outdoor rally across from where President Donald Trump was holding a rally in El Paso, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)

People wait for former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke to arrive on stage at an outdoor rally across from where President Donald Trump was holding a rally in El Paso, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the El Paso County Coliseum, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in El Paso, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In Texas, Trump backs wall while O’Rourke rallies opponents


Associated Press

Tuesday, February 12

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — President Donald Trump charged ahead with his pledge to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, skimming over the details of lawmakers’ tentative deal that would give him far less than he’s been demanding and declaring he’s “setting the stage” to deliver on his signature campaign promise.

In the first dueling rallies of the 2020 campaign season, Trump’s “Finish the Wall” rally in El Paso went head-to-head Monday night against counter-programming by Beto O’Rourke, a former Democratic congressman and potential Trump rival in 2020, who argued that walls cause more problems than they solve.

The rallies across the street from each other served as a preview of the heated years long fight over the direction of the country. And they made clear that Trump’s long-promised border wall is sure to play an outsized role in the presidential race, as both sides use it to try to rally their supporters and highlight their contrasting approaches.

Standing in a packed stadium under a giant American flag and banners saying “FINISH THE WALL,” Trump insisted that large portions of the project are already under construction and vowed to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise regardless of what happens in Congress.

“Walls work,” said Trump, whose rally was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. “Walls save lives.”

O’Rourke, meanwhile, held a counter-march with dozens of local civic, human rights and Hispanic groups in his hometown, followed by a protest rally attended by thousands on a baseball field within shouting distance from the arena where Trump spoke.

“With the eyes of the country upon us, all of us together are going to make our stand here in one of the safest cities in America,” O’Rourke said. “Safe not because of walls but in spite of walls.”

More than a half-hour in his rally, Trump had scarcely mentioned immigration, offering just a passing suggestion that those chanting “Build the Wall” switch to “Finish the Wall.” Instead, he mocked O’Rourke, insisting the Texan has “very little going for himself except he’s got a great first name” and deriding his crowd size, even though both men drew thousands.

“That may be the end of his presidential bid,” Trump quipped, adding: “You’re supposed to win in order to run.”

There was a brief scuffle on a media riser away from the stage at Trump’s rally, when a man began shoving members of the news media and was restrained. There were no apparent injuries.

The rallies began moments after negotiators on Capitol Hill announced that lawmakers had reached an agreement in principle to fund the government ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to avoid another shutdown.

Republicans tentatively agreed to far less money for Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4 billion, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Three people familiar with Congress’ tentative border security deal have told The Associated Press that the accord would provide $1.375 billion to build 55 miles (90 kilometers) of new border barriers — well below the $5.7 billion that Trump demanded to build over 200 miles (320 kilometers) of wall along the Mexican boundary. The money will be for vertical steel slats called bollards, not a solid wall.

The talks had cratered over the weekend because of Democratic demands to limit immigrant detentions by federal authorities, but lawmakers apparently broke through that impasse Monday evening. Now they will need the support of Trump, who must sign the legislation.

But Trump appeared oblivious to the deal, saying that he’d been informed by aides that negotiators had made some progress but that he had declined to be fully briefed because he wanted to go on stage.

“I had a choice. I could’ve stayed out there and listened, or I could have come out to the people of El Paso, and Texas, I chose you,” Trump said. “So we probably have some good news. But who knows?”

Trump, who has been threatening to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress, added, “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.”

The counter march began at a high school about a mile from the baseball field in the shadow of Trump’s rally, its participants streaming past part of the border and the towering metal slats lining it. Marchers waved handmade signs reading “Fire the Liar,” ”Hate Is Not What Makes America Great” and “Make Tacos, Not Walls.” They chanted “No wall!” and “Beto! Beto! Beto!”

Many marchers, and those in the crowd at the ballpark, carried flags reading “Beto for President 2020” or black-and-white “Beto for Senate” yard signs from his closer-than-expected November race against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz that had been modified slightly to read “Beto for President.” The Democrat said the event wasn’t only about him — or Trump — but meant to tell the true story of life in El Paso.

“It is going to be the people of the border,” O’Rourke told the crowd before beginning the march, “who will write the next chapter in the history of this great country. Ensuring that our laws and our language and our leaders match our values.”

Trump has insisted that large portions of the border wall are already underway. But the work focuses almost entirely on replacing existing barriers. Work on the first extension — 14 miles (23 kilometers) in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley — starts this month. The other 83 miles (134 kilometers) that his administration has awarded contracts for are replacement projects.

Trump has repeatedly pointed to El Paso to make his case that a border wall is necessary, claiming that barriers turned the city from one of the nation’s most dangerous to one of its safest.

“You know where it made a difference is right here in El Paso,” he said Monday, adding: “They’re full of crap when they claim it hasn’t made a big difference.”

But that’s not true.

El Paso had a murder rate of less than half the national average in 2005, a year before the most recent expansion of its border fence. That’s despite being just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city plagued by drug violence. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows that El Paso’s annual number of reported violent crimes dropped from nearly 5,000 in 1995 to around 2,700 in 2016. But that corresponded with similar declines in violent crime nationwide and included periods when the city’s crime rates increased year over year, despite new fencing and walls.

The Trump campaign released a video showing El Paso residents saying the wall helped reduce crime. But many in the city have bristled at the prospect of becoming a border wall poster child.

Trump advisers have long insisted that, fulfilled or not, the wall is a winning issue for the president, who has already sought to rewrite the “Build the Wall” chants that were a staple of his 2016 campaign to “Finish the Wall.”

An AP-NORC poll conducted during last month’s shutdown found that more Americans oppose a wall than support it. But nearly 8 in 10 Republicans are in favor, with only about 1 in 10 opposed.

Democrats, meanwhile, are adamant that Trump’s insistence on a wall helps them and point to their 2018 midterm election gains in the House as proof that voters want to block Trump’s agenda.

Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Zeke Miller and Kevin Freking in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

Budget deal allows far less money than Trump wanted for wall


Associated Press

Tuesday, February 12

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional negotiators reached agreement to prevent a government shutdown and finance construction of new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, overcoming a late-stage hang-up over immigration enforcement issues that had threatened to scuttle the talks.

Republicans were desperate to avoid another bruising shutdown. They tentatively agreed Monday night to far less money for President Donald Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4 billion, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

It’s not clear whether Trump will support the deal, although GOP negotiators said they were hopeful.

The agreement means 55 miles (88 kilometers) of new fencing — constructed through existing designs such as metal slats instead of a concrete wall — but far less than the 215 miles (345 kilometers) the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. It actually closely mirrors Trump’s original budget request from last winter, however.

The split-the-differences compromise contains plenty to anger lawmakers on the right and left — too much border fencing than many Democrats would like and too little for conservative Republicans — but its authors praised it as a genuine compromise that would keep the government open and allow everyone to move on.

“With the government being shut down, the specter of another shutdown this close, what brought us back together I thought tonight was we didn’t want that to happen” again, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

Details won’t be officially released until Tuesday, but the pact came in time to alleviate any threat of a second partial government shutdown this weekend. Negotiators said it’s pretty much the deal that Trump could have gotten in December. Aides revealed the details under condition of anonymity because the agreement is tentative.

“Our staffs are just working out the details,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. She said the huge measure — which combines seven spending bills into one — measure would be publicly released as early as Tuesday afternoon.

The pact also includes increases for new technologies such as advanced screening at border entry points, humanitarian aid sought by Democrats, and additional customs officers.

This weekend, Shelby pulled the plug on the talks over Democratic demands to limit immigrant detentions by federal authorities, frustrating some of his fellow negotiators, but Democrats yielded ground on that issue in a fresh round of talks on Monday.

Asked if Trump would back the deal, Shelby said: “We believe from our dealings with them and the latitude they’ve given us, they will support it. We certainly hope so.”

But Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, a Trump ally, said the barrier money in the agreement was inadequate. He warned late Monday that “any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain.”

“I would hope that Sean Hannity and all the other people you mentioned aren’t running this government. This was a bipartisan deal, Senate and House, Republican and Democrat,” top negotiator Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said on CNN. “When we sat around the table and negotiated this deal, we didn’t call Sean Hannity, we didn’t call (Ann) Coulter.” Coulter is a conservative commentator.

Trump traveled to El Paso, Texas, for a campaign-style rally Monday night focused on immigration and border issues. He has been adamant that Congress approve money for a wall along the Mexican border, though he no longer repeats his 2016 mantra that Mexico will pay for it, and he took to the stage as lawmakers back in Washington were announcing their breakthrough.

“They said that progress is being made with this committee,” Trump told his audience, referring to the congressional bargainers. “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.”

Democrats carried more leverage into the talks after besting Trump on the 35-day shutdown but showed flexibility in hopes on winning Trump’s signature. After yielding on border barriers, Democrats focused on reducing funding for detention beds to curb what they see as unnecessarily harsh enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

The agreement yielded curbed funding, overall, for ICE detention beds, which Democrats promised would mean the agency would hold fewer detainees than the roughly 49,000 detainees held on Feb. 10, the most recent date for which figures were available. Democrats claimed the number of beds would be ratcheted down to 40,520.

But a proposal to cap at 16,500 the number of detainees caught in areas away from the border — a limit Democrats say was aimed at preventing overreach by the agency — ran into its own Republican wall.

Democrats dropped the demand in the Monday round of talks, and the mood in the Capitol improved markedly.

Trump met Monday afternoon with top advisers in the Oval Office to discuss the negotiations. He softened his rhetoric on the wall but ratcheted it up when alluding to the detention beds issue.

“We can call it anything. We’ll call it barriers, we’ll call it whatever they want,” Trump said. “But now it turns out not only don’t they want to give us money for a wall, they don’t want to give us the space to detain murderers, criminals, drug dealers, human smugglers.”

The recent shutdown left more than 800,000 government workers without paychecks, forced postponement of the State of the Union address and sent Trump’s poll numbers tumbling. As support in his own party began to splinter, Trump surrendered after the shutdown hit 35 days, agreeing to the current temporary reopening without getting money for the wall.

The president’s supporters have suggested that Trump could use executive powers to divert money from the federal budget for wall construction, though he could face challenges in Congress or the courts.

The negotiations hit a rough patch Sunday amid a dispute over curbing ICE, the federal agency that Republicans see as an emblem of tough immigration policies and Democrats accuse of often going too far.

The border debate got most of the attention, but it’s just part of a major spending measure to fund a bevy of Cabinet departments. A collapse of the negotiations would have imperiled another upcoming round of budget talks that are required to prevent steep spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Lisa Mascaro in Washington and Jill Colvin in El Paso, Texas, contributed to this report.

The Conversation

The shutdown: Drowning government in the bathtub

February 12, 2019

Author: William E. Nelson, Professor of Law, New York University

Disclosure statement: William E. Nelson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

In a Wall Street Journal interview three days after reopening the government, President Trump handicapped the odds of a border wall settlement.

“I personally think it’s less than 50-50,” he said, calling another shutdown “certainly an option.”

Shuttering the government for the third time since Trump took office remains possible, but is less likely now, given Monday’s progress towards a deal in Congressional talks over securing the border. Meanwhile, bipartisan support, including among prominent Republicans like Sens. Chuck Grassley, Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman, is rising for bills that would prohibit shutdowns.

The president’s observable objective in this political conflict is getting money from Congress to build the border wall.

As legal scholars who have spent much of our careers analyzing the interaction between government and society, including the economy, we believe that intentionally or not, the shutdown also was consistent with a goal long sought by a subset of the Republican Party – not to be confused with traditional, moderate Republicans – that wants to dismantle the government.

Starve the beast

These advocates of limiting government’s size have a traffic cop theory of the state, featuring a minimalist state focused on safety and security.

Many believe that government is at best superfluous and at worst a drag on a free market. It has long been their aim to cut taxes to “starve the beast.”

Grover Norquist, who founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 at the urging of President Reagan, declared in 2001: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

Trump advocated shrinking the government as early as 2000.

The Statue of Liberty, run by the National Park Service, was kept open for tourists with New York state funds during the shutdown.

In his book, “The America We Deserve,” then-businessman Trump observed: “Common sense tell(s) us that the two basic principles of governing should work anywhere they are applied. First: Get government out of skating rinks and any other activities it can’t do well. (A list … of things government doesn’t do well is a very long list.) Second: Get government back in the business of providing for public convenience (transportation, public works) and safety (police and firefighters), and make sure that it does so efficiently.”

So Trump also has a traffic cop theory of the state: The government should protect personal safety and property rights, facilitate transportation and perhaps construct and maintain infrastructure.

Many of Trump’s actions can be seen through this lens: In his first week in office, Trump imposed a hiring freeze on much of the executive branch, exempting the military, national security and public safety. Although the hiring freeze was lifted several months later, the number of federal employees decreased by 17,000 in the first 18 months that Trump was in office.

Ten days after he assumed office, Trump signed Executive Order 13771 on “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs,” which required eliminating two significant regulations for every new one.

One year into office, President Trump proudly highlighted how many regulations his administration had eradicated. The New York Times reported that Trump staff had claimed “that the rules already rolled back had saved $8.1 billion in regulatory costs over their lifetime.”

And Trump was just getting started.

He issued another executive order, later declared illegal, making it easier to fire government employees. This New Year’s Day, he froze government workers’ pay.

Downgrading government

For some, including Trump advisers like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and acting White House budget director Russell Vought, the shutdown was a useful exercise in limited government.

Moreover, according to The Washington Post, former chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon has called shutdowns “blunt-force measures that certainly show what’s essential and what’s not.”

Among the agencies affected by the shutdown, the Environmental Protection Agency only had 800 of 14,000 employees working. This stymied new regulations and regulatory inspections.

The Commerce Department couldn’t release data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau, including home sales, wholesale and retail inventory, consumer spending, personal income, inflation, and durable goods orders. Not only is this data used for calculating important economic indicators like the gross domestic product, but businesses and even the Federal Reserve use it in their decision-making.

Most of the FBI was working, but without pay, and the agency lacked the money to support costly cyber investigations or even to pay informants, thereby impairing their work.

Most immigration judges were furloughed, causing thousands of immigration cases to be postponed. Many of the government’s watchdog activities were curtailed, such as fraud investigations, tax audits and identity theft investigations.

Many government websites were down or not updated.

Acquisitions, mergers, IPOs, bankruptcy proceedings and small business loans slowed or stopped.

Careful what you wish for

But as the shutdown continued, it became evident that those furloughed unpaid government employees add value to the economy and contribute to the nation’s security and well-being.

The Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers said that the economy may not grow at all in the first quarter owing to the shutdown.

The FBI Agents Association and former heads of Homeland Security, including John Kelly, wrote to the White House and members of Congress expressing concerns about national security.

TSA and air traffic controllers worked without pay, and the TSA absentee rate the weekend before the shutdown ended was a record 10 percent. A shortage of air traffic controllers caused massive airport delays, which many think prompted the reopening of government.

The shutdown illustrated what some advocates have long wanted: a shrunken government. And it was an experiment that, as the above examples and many others illustrate, was not viable. Public pressure forced the reopening of the government – at the same size it was before the shutdown.

John Attanasio, a legal scholar and author of “Politics and Capital: Auctioning the American Dream,” is a contributing author.


Gene H. Bell-Villada: For decades now, libertarian ideologues have been calling for reduction of government strictly to military, security, and judicial functions. Trump’s shutdowns are thus exercises in precisely that. Libertarians must be pleased at the results.

People wait for former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to arrive on stage at an outdoor rally across from where President Donald Trump was holding a rally in El Paso, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez) wait for former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to arrive on stage at an outdoor rally across from where President Donald Trump was holding a rally in El Paso, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the El Paso County Coliseum, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the El Paso County Coliseum, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in El Paso, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Donald Trump speaks during a rally in El Paso, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports