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Trump Again Caves, This Time for Even Less Wall Money (Art of the Deal, Folks)

Welp

President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, in WashingtonTrump, Washington, USA - 12 Feb 2019

President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, DC.

Evan Vucci/AP/REX/Shutterstock

President Trump shut down the government for a record 35 days because he refused to sign a spending bill with less than $5.7 billion appropriated for his proposed Mexican border wall. On Wednesday, CNN reported that the president will begrudgingly sign a bipartisan bill that will prevent the government from re-entering a shutdown at the end of this week. The new bill only includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fencing.

“Am I happy? The answer is no, I’m not. I’m not happy,” Trump said of the deal during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. He went on to maintain that “it’s all going to happen” and “we’re going to build a beautiful, big, strong wall.” The president also said that shutting down the government and depriving 800,000 federal workers of their paychecks was worth it “because people learned … about the problems coming in from the southern border.”

On Tuesday night, Trump indicated in a tweet that he would sign the deal before Friday’s deadline.

On Wednesday morning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to tamp down reports that the president planned to sign the deal. “We want to see what the final piece of legislation looks like,” she said. “It’s hard to say definitively whether or not the president’s going to sign it until we know everything that’s in it.” Around the same time Sanders was speaking with reporters on the White House lawn, NBC joined CNN in reporting that Trump was “inclined” to sign the bipartisan deal.

Not only does the spending agreement include only a fraction of the wall funding Trump has long demanded, the $1.375 billion it earmarks for the wall is less than the $1.6 billion in funding included in the deal Trump scuttled last year, leading to the shutdown. So much winning.

The deal also “prohibits use of concrete wall or other Trump Wall prototypes,” stipulating that only “existing technologies” can be used. On Tuesday, Trump lamented the “unattractive and ugly” appearance of previous border barriers. “They were so ugly, with rusted steel and big ugly plates on top that were all tin-canned,” Trump explained. “It’s called tin-canned, where they’re wavy, because the heat makes them expand and contract, and they’re tin-canned.”

The president isn’t the only Republican unhappy with the deal. “This conference agreement is hardly a serious attempt to secure our border or stop the flow of illegal immigration,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) tweeted. “It kicks the can down the road yet again, failing to address the critical priorities outlined by Border Patrol Chiefs. Congress is not doing its job.”

Ann Coulter, the right’s foremost wall hawk, took direct aim at the president. “Trump talks a good game on the border wall but it’s increasingly clear he’s afraid to fight for it,” she tweeted. “Call this his ‘Yellow New Deal.'” Sean Hannity also expressed frustration, calling the deal a “garbage compromise” before softening his tone Tuesday night when it became clear that Trump intended to sign the bill. “There’s another solution, maybe even a better solution,” he said. “I’m not as concerned as some other conservatives if the president signs the bill.”

But Hannity added a caveat that the president now must declare a national emergency, which would theoretically allow the administration to siphon billions of dollars from other government programs, specifically disaster-relief initiatives led by the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s unclear whether Trump will declare a national emergency, but he does seem intent on taking some sort of executive action to cobble together the necessary funding.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MT) suggested on Tuesday that the president could tap the military. “The defense budget, I’m sure they very likely already have in mind what they’d like to do with that $881 million, but if the president was looking for $881 million that he controls, he can look at what they wanted to do with it and decide if barriers would be a more important use,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “It’s certainly a specifically approved use in drug trafficking areas, and these areas would all fit that definition.”

The $881 million to which Blunt is referring is only another fraction of the funding necessary to build a border wall, and it may very well be the case that declaring a national emergency is the only option Trump will have if he wants to build the wall without congressional approval. He appears fully prepared to do so. “The president isn’t fully happy, as he said yesterday, with everything that’s in the legislation, but there are some positive pieces of it,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday. “But one way or the other, and one thing that you can be sure of, is at the end of the day the president is going to build the wall.”

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