Despite a government shutdown, a national emergency declaration, and over four years of bluster from President Trump, construction has yet to begin on a wall along the southern border.
The president is not happy, especially with the 2020 election is looming. According to a new report from the Washington Post, Trump has essentially instructed his aides to use whatever means necessary to get up a few hundred miles of wall so he’ll have something concrete, perhaps literally, to offer supporters as proof that he’s made good on his signature 2016 campaign promise.
If those means include breaking federal law, so be it. As the Post writes: “[Trump] has also has told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the barriers built quickly, those officials said.”
The president of the United States is consumed with an all-out push to complete hundreds of miles of black-painted, spiked border wall ahead of the Nov 2020 election. He’s telling aides not to worry, he’ll pardon them if needed. NEW with @jdawsey1 https://t.co/aG6XacmVQG
— Nick Miroff (@NickMiroff) August 28, 2019
When asked for comment, a White House official told the Post the president is joking when he “makes such statements about pardons.”
Trump is barely even pretending his obsession with constructing portions of a wall as soon as possible is anything more than a political move ahead of the election. The Post notes that the president has admitted to lawmakers that a wall is not going to stop undocumented immigrants, but that he needs one because he promised it to his supporters. The election is the deadline, naturally, and during a conference call last week Customs and Border Protection officials told Army Corps engineers that a chunk of the wall has to go up before next November, quality be damned.
“Border Patrol insists on compressed acquisition timelines, and we consent,” said a senior official. “Their goal is to get contracts awarded, not for us to get a quality contract with a thoroughly vetted contractor.” The official added that they “don’t care how much money is spent, whether landowners’ rights are violated, whether the environment is damaged, the law, the regs, or even prudent business practices.”
Of so little regard are environmental regulations or property laws like eminent domain that Border Patrol has even suggested eliminating risk assessment memos related to how real estate rights might impact construction. When concern over property law violations has been expressed in meetings, Trump has reportedly said: “Take the land.”
Complicating matters are Trump’s aesthetic demands. It was reported in May that he was demanding the wall be painted black and topped with spikes, even “describing in graphic terms the potential injuries that border crossers might receive.” Not much has changed, even though the specifications, which have little practical value, will cost tens of millions of dollars to implement and curtail the amount of wall that engineers are able to build in the desired timeframe.
Despite the lack of progress to date, administration officials are hopeful construction on hundreds of miles of new wall will ramp up in 2020, and be completed by the election. With all of the leg work and regulation flaunting done, there will be nothing left to do other than build.
In keeping with the President's commitment to addressing the security crisis at the border and protecting the American people, the Administration anticipates completing nearly 450 miles of new border wall by the end of 2020. https://t.co/Q0BMHIUIAA
— USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli (@USCISCuccinelli) August 26, 2019
The Post‘s story wasn’t the only example from Tuesday of the administration’s obsession with immigration, which it has turned the government upside down to address from every angle, regardless of the monetary or humanitarian expense. Hours before the paper published its story on the wall, it was reported that the Department of Homeland Security informed Congress that at least $155 million in funding meant for disaster relief will instead be used to help send migrants out of the country. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Dorian is bearing down on Puerto Rico.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was not pleased. “Stealing from appropriated funds is always unacceptable, but to pick the pockets of disaster relief funding in order to fund an appalling, inhumane family incarceration plan is staggering — and to do so on the eve of hurricane season is stunningly reckless,” she wrote in a statement. “I urge the Administration to swiftly reconsider this deeply irresponsible action, and to begin to work in good faith with Congress so that we can deliver progress For The People.”
But by now it should be clear to Pelosi that statements urging the Trump administration to reconsider anything are useless. The only real action the House of Representatives can take is to begin impeachment proceedings, and it’s becoming harder and harder to argue Trump isn’t guilty of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that warrant removal from office. One would think telling aides they will be pardoned if they break federal law on his behalf would qualify.