Trump insists military will build the border wall

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. military will construct his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, insisting that it will be built “one way or the other” while seemingly walking back threats to shut down the government if Congress fails to appropriate for the wall by the end of the week.

Trump also doubled-down on his claim that Mexico is paying for the wall’s construction by virtue of a recently renegotiated trilateral trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. That claim has been met with skepticism by many who have argued increased revenues via international trade do not constitute the president making good on his guarantee that Mexico would pay for the wall.

“Mexico is paying (indirectly) for the Wall through the new USMCA, the replacement for NAFTA! Far more money coming to the U.S. Because of the tremendous dangers at the Border, including large scale criminal and drug inflow, the United States Military will build the Wall!” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning.

“In our Country, so much money has been poured down the drain, for so many years, but when it comes to Border Security and the Military, the Democrats fight to the death,” the president wrote in an earlier tweet. Pointing to an increase in defense spending this year agreed to by both parties — in exchange for a boost in domestic spending, a concession to Democrats — Trump added: “One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!” 

Trump’s flurry of tweets is the latest indicator that the White House has softened its stance on a possible shutdown Friday, a marked difference from the president’s Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders a week ago, where he declared he would be “proud” to shut down the government if Congress provided anything less than $5 billion in funding specifically for the border wall. 

Asked Wednesday if the Defense Department had any comment on Trump’s plan to use the military to build the border wall and if it would be possible to reallocate funding for it, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said, “at this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region.” In response to a follow-up email from POLITICO, Manning said his initial response had been sent in error but did not comment on Trump’s border wall plan.

On Tuesday, the White House said that it had begun to look elsewhere in the federal budget for money to go toward a wall while saying that it would wait and see how spending negotiations in Congress play out before making a decision on how to act.

And counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday told reporters that Trump would be open to punting the issue to next year with a stopgap bill.

But even as Trump vowed on Twitter that a border wall would come to fruition, she seemed to downplay even that promise in an interview on “Fox & Friends” while chiding members of both parties in Congress for dragging their feet on the issue.

“First of all, let’s not all acquiesce to the ridiculous sound bite that this is about a wall,” Conway said. Democrats “are trying to make a wall a four letter word when the president has been talking about border security all along as have the Democrats, until he became president.”

Pointing to bipartisan criminal justice overhaul legislation that passed in the Senate on Tuesday night, Conway argued that “when people want to come together on behalf of the American people they do it through criminal justice reform, through opioid legislation. That’s why the Democrats are completely disingenuous when they walk away from border security.”

“Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt pushed Conway on the wall issue, asking why there had been so little progress on one of the president’s signature campaign promises and suggesting that backing down from a shutdown battle amounted to a softening of Trump’s stance on the issue. Conway replied with criticism of Congressional Republicans, who have been somewhat split on the issue of meeting Trump’s border-wall demands.

“The president is not softening his stance. He has a responsibility to keep the government moving and he has responsibility to get border security. If he could do it by himself, he would have done it already,” she said. “We are relying on a Congress that has proven many times with tax reform and deregulation, obviously two Supreme Court justices, they are willing to come up and make a move.”

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