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Trump tells GOP members they’re ‘wasting their time’ in border security talks

President drops veiled threat to go national emergency route to get funding for his wall

Barriers at the southern border. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo)
Barriers at the southern border. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump appeared to torpedo Republicans on a House-Senate border security conference committee by suggesting its GOP members are “wasting” their time because Democrats will never support funding for his proposed southern border wall.

He also made a veiled threat to his vow Friday to declare a national emergency at the southern border by using executive powers that would allow him to tap into Defense Department monies to continue the wall project — though Democrats and left-leaning groups say they would immediately challenge such an order in court.

“Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee are wasting their time. Democrats, despite all of the evidence, proof and Caravans coming, are not going to give money to build the DESPERATELY needed WALL. I’ve got you covered. Wall is already being built, I don’t expect much help!” he tweeted.

That bipartisan conference committee met for the first time Wednesday, but its members gave few signs that a deal is likely on border security and wall funding before a Feb. 15 deadline. If that panel fails to produce spending legislation that both chambers can pass and Trump would sign into law, a quarter of the federal government would again shut down.

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Trump also dropped his attempts to rebrand his southern border structure as “artistically designed steel slats,” likely making things harder for the House-Senate panel, which is trying to strike a border spending deal needed to avert another government shutdown. Trump on Thursday returned to his hardline stance, demanding his proposed structure permanently be called a “wall.”

And in a signal the president is increasingly focused on his 2020 re-election bid, he fired off a tweet in a series of posts that spanned several hours contending the Democratic Party is becoming one that favors “late term abortion, high taxes, Open Borders and Crime!”

The president again rose in a mood Wednesday, which will be the sixth consecutive day since he on Friday capitulated and re-opened nine Cabinet agencies and a list of smaller offices without getting a penny for his proposed border wall. And he made clear he was watching morning cable news programs, as he often does during his morning “executive time,” tagging “Fox & Friends” in one tweet.

[3 Takeaways: Why Trump’s media blackout likely won’t last much longer]

“Lets just call them WALLS from now on and stop playing political games! A WALL is a WALL!” the president tweeted, likely putting a chink in the chain that is the House-Senate committee’s talks.

Several weeks ago, he floated calling the structure a “barrier” that would be made out of steel rather than the concrete wall he talked about multiple times a day as a 2016 candidate — and continued to push after he took office. Trump said in public he was doing so to give Democrats “an out” that, in his mind, would allow enough to vote for spending bills with wall funds; none have done so in recent weeks.

In fact, Trump’s renewed insistence to call the structure a “wall” could further complicate the committee’s work because Democrats view his call for a giant concrete or steel “wall” as “immoral.” They have linked that word to his tough rhetoric since the day he started his presidential bid in 2015, saying that walling off Central and South American migrants is counter to traditional American values.

But congressional Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, so far as staying together in their opposition to a wall or barrier. She has said her caucus will allocate not one dollar for the project — even though the three-week stopgap both chambers passed Friday and Trump signed includes wall monies.

House Homeland Security Appropriations Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of California on Wednesday said House Democrats are still finalizing a border spending proposal. But that package won’t propose shortchanging other programs to make room for a barrier or wall, she said. Before that committee met, Trump warned them to not “waste” its time by not discussing his wall.

Trump also fired off several Wednesday morning tweets with claims about the wall project and murder rates in Mexico that have been questioned by Democrats and immigration experts.

The wall is never far from the president’s mind. That’s because it is important to his conservative base; when he was prepared to sign a similar stopgap spending bill in December that included no new wall funds, right-wing opinion-shapers Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh blasted him as weak, causing Trump to force the 35-day shutdown that his own administration says hurt the U.S. economy. It also hurt his poll numbers and caused stoppages at major American airports.

But in classic Trump form, he found someone else to blame for the wall showdown during a Wednesday evening interview with the Daily Caller.

“Well, I was going to veto the omnibus bill and Paul told me in the strongest of language, ‘Please don’t do that, we’ll get you the wall.’ And I said, ‘I hope you mean that, because I don’t like this bill,’” the president said, referring to former Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

“Paul told me in the strongest of terms that, ‘please sign this and if you sign this we will get you that wall,’” Trump told the conservative news website. “Which is desperately needed by our country. Humanitarian crisis, trafficking, drugs, you know, everything — people, criminals, gangs, so, you know, we need the wall.”

[So many 2020 Democrats, so much (executive) time]

“And then he went lame duck,” Trump said of Ryan, who announced his retirement with around nine months left in his tenure.

“And once he went lame duck, it was just really an exercise in waving to people and the power was gone so I was very disappointed,” Trump said Wednesday evening. “I was very disappointed in Paul because the wall was so desperately needed. And I’ll get the wall.”

Though Ryan was unable to get anything to Trump’s desk with billions for the wall project, he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reportedly pleaded with Trump last month to sign a Senate-crafted stopgap spending bill and start border talks with Democrats. Trump chose to instead listen to Coulter, Limbaugh and Fox News anchors by forcing a shutdown – with another just 16 days away as he digs in anew over the “wall.”