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Castillo: A border wall by any means remains Trump’s obsession


President Trump’s obsession with a “big, beautiful wall” has reached new heights of absurdity.

Once, he fumed with Mexico because our neighbor wouldn’t pay for his border wall, though he had promised as much — over and over and over again. Now, the president is steamed because the American taxpayer won’t pay for it either, at least not for now. So, Trump is threatening to take the federal government hostage if he doesn’t get his way.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: Cornyn says Trump’s shutdown threat over border wall was negotiation tactic.

How did we get here? The president, who famously bellowed his campaign vow to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border and sold his followers on the crazy idea that Mexico would pick up the tab, either learned or conceded the obvious in January: Mexico isn’t paying for a wall. Not a penny. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox conveyed as much in colorful language in a widely viewed video taunting Trump earlier this year.

But Trump knew the score long before that video. During a phone call shortly before taking office, Trump fumed with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto for insisting Mexico wouldn’t pay for a wall. Stop saying so publicly, Trump begged.

Because he needs money for the wall, Trump now is training his ire on Congress. So far, only the House has approved Trump’s initial request for $1.6 billion – not in pesos, but your taxpayer dollars — to begin construction of a wall. That’s just for starters; the Department of Homeland Security estimates the total cost of a wall spanning the entire southern border at $21.6 billion. Other estimates are higher.

The Senate, however, is a higher bar than the House. It has a slim Republican majority, and a few Democrats hold some sway. Also, several GOP members have increasingly fractious relationships with the president, a group that includes key figures like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who needs the president as much as the president needs him if they are to accomplish anything.

On Tuesday, during a campaign rally in Phoenix – you read that correctly, a 2020 campaign rally only months after taking office – Trump threatened to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t provide funding for a wall.

“If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” he told raucous supporters.

JUAN CASTILLO: How Cornyn’s border plan is less Trumpian, more Texas-friendly.

Threatening a government shutdown is a risky roll of the dice for a president who hasn’t checked off much from his list of major goals. No wall. No new health care plan. No tax reform. A Congress already saddled with a “do-nothing” label could get mired even deeper in inertia.

Another key Republican, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, seemed to give Trump the benefit of the doubt Wednesday, dismissing the president’s bluster as a bluff.”

“I think that’s part of – that’s President Trump the negotiator laying down the tough line,” Cornyn said.

That seems awfully kind. Even with a Republican majority in Congress, the president hasn’t demonstrated ability to negotiate an agreement on one of his most coveted prizes – a repeal of the Affordable Care Act – even when his party holds all the cards.

An April survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found 58 percent of Americans are against new spending for a border wall; just 28 percent support it.

And Trump is getting a lot of pushback from Texans who think the idea is wildly expensive, inefficient, undermines commerce with Mexico, and threatens sensitive wildlife and terrain. Many think it’s an idea that won’t work.

Cornyn is one who opposes Trump’s initial request for a border wall. He’s introduced his own $15 billion security plan that relies more on personnel, surveillance and technology.

Though Trump might be a lousy political negotiator, he’s a masterful salesman. He sold his supporters not only on the idea that Mexico would pay for a wall, but that it was top priority in the first place.

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But many immigration experts think a wall is an outdated tool in an old war. Bear in mind, apprehensions of Mexican migrants at the U.S. border have fallen to historic lows, according to the Pew Research Center, which also found that the number of Mexican migrants living in the U.S. illegally has fallen by more than 1 million since 2007. Two-thirds of all immigrants who joined the undocumented population in 2014 came here legally, but stayed after their visas expired. A border barricade won’t stop them.

Nevertheless, Trump persists. In threatening to shut down the government to get his border wall, the president Trump is threatening the American people by not carrying out their business. That’s absurd.

Castillo is the Viewpoints editor. Contact him at jcastillo@statesman.com



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