After pledging for years to construct a solid wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to combat illegal immigration, President Donald Trump appears to be backing away from that promise as he and his allies play down what the administration wants built – alternately referring to the planned wall as a fence, a “steel slat barrier” or a metaphor for border security.
The shift marks a tacit acknowledgment of retreat by the White House on one of its signature issues as it faces the reality of divided government in the new year and a partial government shutdown that is in its second week.
“All have been considered as part of the solution,” he said.
Trump has been sensitive to any criticism from his supporters, including in conservative media, that he is softening his stance on the wall, and some are saying they are concerned about any move away from building a solid barrier on the border.
“I absolutely want to build a wall in the sense that the president has described it all throughout the campaign and in the sense that I’ve described it in all of my 16 years in Congress,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, an immigration hard-liner. “Wherever there’s a wall built, it’s been effective.”
The debate over what constitutes a wall comes as Trump and Republican leadership are at odds with congressional Democrats on the issue of border security, with the impasse leading to a partial government shutdown that is unlikely to be resolved until Thursday at the earliest, when the new Congress convenes and Democrats take control of the House.
A Trump-backed spending bill passed by House Republicans on Dec. 20 included more than $5 billion in border-security funding that could be spent on a wall, but that measure has not gained traction in the Senate, where Democrats are resisting the president’s demand.
On Monday, the president disputed an assertion by his outgoing chief of staff, John Kelly, that the White House has jettisoned plans for a concrete wall, claiming that the idea was “NEVER ABANDONED.”
In morning tweets, Trump sought to blame the media for the discrepancy and said he still envisions an “all concrete” wall in some areas but that a “see through” barrier at the U.S.-Mexican border would be more appropriate in other areas based on what he’s been told by “experts at Border Patrol.
“Makes sense to me!” he added.
In an interview published Sunday in the Los Angeles Times, Kelly was quoted saying that the current White House plan for a barrier is “not a wall.”
“The president still says ‘wall’ – oftentimes, frankly, he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing.’ Now he’s tended toward steel slats,” Kelly said. “But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”