In remarks at the White House on Friday, Donald Trump effectively admitted defeat on the omnibus spending package, telling the public that he didn't like the bill, but he'd signed it anyway because he felt powerless. As part of his pitch, the president seemed to make himself feel better by talking about funding in the bill for his proposed wall along the U.S./Mexico border.
"We funded the initial down payment of $1.6 billion. But we're going to be starting work, literally, on Monday, on not only some new wall -- not enough, but we're working that very quickly -- but also fixing existing walls and existing acceptable fences. [...]"So, we have $1.6 billion for the wall. That will start immediately. This is a short-term funding, but it's immediate. It starts immediately."
The president made no mention of his assurances to the public during the campaign that Mexico would pay for his wall. Perhaps it's slipped his mind.
Trump also didn't mention that congressional Democrats were prepared to give him $25 billion for his wall in exchange for DACA protections for Dreamers -- a bipartisan deal the president rejected out of hand. Perhaps he forgot about this, too.
But perhaps the biggest problem with the president's boast about wall funding is that he's completely wrong in ways Trump doesn't seem to understand.
As NBC News reported on Friday, the spending bill the president signed into law sets aside $1.6 billion, but the money "can be used only to repair and build previously approved fencing,"
A Washington Post report added:
"The bill provides $1.6 billion for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but with some serious strings attached. Of the total, $251 million is earmarked specifically for "secondary fencing" near San Diego, where fencing is already in place; $445 million is for no more than 25 miles of "levee fencing"; $196 million is for "primary pedestrian fencing" in the Rio Grande Valley; $445 million is for the replacement of existing fencing in that area; and the rest is for planning, design and technology -- not for wall construction"The biggest catch is this: The barriers authorized to be built under the act must be "operationally effective designs" already deployed as of last March, meaning none of President Trump's big, beautiful wall prototypes can be built."
And yet, there was the president on Friday, telling the public that wall construction will begin "literally" today. He made similar claims over the weekend on Twitter.
I'll confess to being curious about whether Trump knows he's lying. Is his desire for a border wall so strong that he's convinced himself of imaginary provisions in the spending package, or does he recognize reality and believe there's political value in deceiving the public?
Alternatively, are exhausted White House aides telling him, "Oh sure, Mr. President, plans for wall construction are definitely on track, and we break ground today," the way parents may placate toddlers in the hopes they'll go to bed and forget what was said soon after?