On Friday afternoon, just hours ahead of the government shutdown, Donald Trump published a never-before-seen image via Twitter of black steel bars. "A design of our Steel Slat Barrier which is totally effective while at the same time beautiful!" the president wrote.
It caught many observers a little off-guard. For one thing, the image was a bit of a mess: the enlarged close-up of the pointed tips of the steel bars bore little resemblance to the rest of the image. For another, even the White House's congressional allies had no idea why Trump had rolled out this new image so late in the appropriations fight.
"The president put out a tweet of a picture with spikes on top of fencing, that's not even in the conversation," Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. "That's not even in one of the designs the border patrol has proposed."
And yet, two days later, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney described Trump's strange tweet as the core of the president's current plan. From his "Fox News Sunday" interview with Chris Wallace:
MULVANEY: It's important that everyone understands a language that everyone is using. The president tweeted out a picture yesterday the steel fence, the steel slated fence with a pointed top and so forth, that's what we want to build.... We've already told the Democrats we want to build what the president tweeted out. It doesn't have to be a 30-foot high concrete.WALLACE: So, you think that they would approve $1.3 billion to build this steal picket fence?MULVANEY: Exactly. Well, the steel barriers that the president tweeted out.
I realize there are a variety of elements of this debate that seem ridiculous, but Mulvaney's comments added an especially confusing element to the debate.
Two years into Donald Trump's presidency, the White House has decided that what the Republican actually wants is a massive border barrier, made up of steel spikes that are roughly 30 feet tall. Administration officials apparently arrived at this point just hours before a government-shutdown deadline, picking this odd design without sharing it in advance with members of Congress.
According to Trump's new chief of staff, the White House "wants to build what the president tweeted out," but if that's true -- and with these guys, it's hard to know from one day to the next -- it means Trump and his team quietly gave up on the president's earlier plan without telling anyone.
Remember, as a candidate, Trump vowed to build a concrete wall, and as a president, Trump's administration solicited bids for a "solid concrete border wall." As recently as yesterday, the president said he intends to keep the government shut down until Congress approves funding for his wall.
Except, according to the White House, what Trump actually wants to build is "what the president tweeted out."
It's why that quote from Oklahoma's James Lankford struck me as so notable: "The president put out a tweet of a picture with spikes on top of fencing, that's not even in the conversation. That's not even in one of the designs the border patrol has proposed."
That, evidently, was before the White House decided that it was time to abandon what Trump proposed and said he wanted.