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A Fence by any Other Name is … a Wall?

White House sees a 'wall' where spending bill calls for 'fencing'

According to the White House, this could be a wall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
According to the White House, this could be a wall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The White House on Wednesday contended the omnibus spending bill making its way through Congress allows the administration to erect a “wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border. There’s only one problem: The bill uses the word “fencing,” which isn’t exactly what President Donald Trump promised repeatedly on the campaign trail.

The president time and again as a candidate used language like “big, beautiful wall” to described the border barrier he would erect as commander in chief. He promised it would keep illegal immigrants, drugs and crime outside of the United States via thousands of miles of reinforced steel and thick concrete.

During his daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer read from the omnibus spending measure approved by the House Wednesday and headed for a Senate floor vote later in the week. He told reporters the legislation, negotiated by Republicans and Democrats, would give the administration almost $350 million in the remaining five months of fiscal 2017 to build “20-foot high bollard wall” in some areas.

Spicer described the “bollard” structure as a “down payment” on the president’s promised border wall. That’s because lawmakers did not include funding specifically for that project in this bill. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, on Monday explained that administration officials early last week decided to put off a fight over funding for the wall  until talks on the next fiscal year’s spending begin on Capitol Hill.

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The definition of “is” plagued President Bill Clinton during and after his intern sex scandal. And a couple of decades later, the definition of “wall” is hounding Trump on just his 104th day in office and after his first round of spending talks with lawmakers.

“Is that a photo of a fence or a wall?” a reporter asked Spicer of the images of a steel barrier on screens over both his shoulders behind the James S. Brady Briefing Room podium.

“That is called a bollard wall and that is called a levy wall,” Spicer said of the structures pictured, later adding: “There are various walls that can be built under the legislation that is just passed.”

The “Bollard wall,” as he called it, already exists in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, and construction on those kinds of barriers, which he declined to specifically say is a fence or a wall, soon will begin in parts of California and Texas. In fact, Spicer never stated clearly whether this kind of steel structure is what candidate Trump had in mind despite talking about a border barrier made of reinforced concrete and steel.

But the text of the spending measure states (on page 739) the $341 million would be used “to replace approximately 40 miles of existing primary pedestrian and vehicle border fencing along the southwest border using previously deployed steel bollard designs, that prioritize [border] agent safety; and to add gates to existing barriers.”

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In addition to “fencing,” that section of the spending bill calls for “physical barriers” and “tactical infrastructure” — but it never says the monies could be used to build a wall on the border.

Long Fence, a commercial and residential fence company, sells bollards and defines them this way: “Bollards are upright steel posts mounted in or alongside roads and parking lots to control, direct or obstruct vehicular traffic or impact.”

The structures are crafted primarily “for maximum vehicle control, and can be used to effectively increase pedestrian safety and building security as well as onsite amenties (sic) from vehicular damage,” according to Long Fence.

Trump has said that, along some parts of the country’s southern border, fencing might be more appropriate than a giant concrete-and-steel wall. But, even this week, the president and his top aides have been promising the administration will build it.

To be sure, the images displayed by Spicer on Wednesday and Mulvaney the day before show bollard structures being erected at the border behind the chain-link fencing they have replaced. The bollard barriers are much taller and clearly more difficult to cut through.

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