Concrete wall or steel slats? Trump contradicts Kelly, himself on border barrier plans
U.S. President Donald Trump is disputing his outgoing chief of staff’s claim that the White House abandoned plans for a concrete border wall long ago, even as the president continues to tout the virtues of an alternate barrier made from steel slats.
“An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media,” Trump tweeted on Monday. He said some parts of the wall will be concrete, while others will be made up of slats so border agents can see through them to the other side.
The president appeared to be reacting to comments from his outgoing chief of staff, John Kelly, who spoke to the Los Angeles Times ahead of his departure from the White House.
Kelly said the definition of the “wall” has shifted since the early days of the Trump administration based on feedback from Customs and Border Protection agents who deal with immigration issues every day.
“The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes, frankly, he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing.’ Now he’s tended toward steel slats,” Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in the interview published Sunday.
“But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”
The border wall was one of Trump’s signature campaign promises during the 2016 election race, when he repeatedly described his vision for a “big, beautiful” concrete barrier along the Mexican border. His ardent supporters still chant “build the wall!” whenever he brings it up at rallies.
WATCH: Candidate Trump stumps for his wall in the 2016 election race
But the president has changed his tune in recent weeks, touting the value of a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall.
Trump tweeted an illustration showing a potential barrier of steel slats on Dec. 21, saying it would be “totally effective while at the same time beautiful!”
“We are not building a Concrete Wall, we are building artistically designed steel slats so that you can easily see through it,” Trump tweeted on Dec. 18.
White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway says the distinction between a concrete wall and a steel barrier is a “silly semantic argument.”
“There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements,” she told Fox News on Sunday. “But only saying ‘wall or no wall’ is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border.”
Prior to winning the Republican nomination for president, Trump blasted rival Jeb Bush for referring to his proposed barrier as a fence.
“It’s not a fence, Jeb, it’s a WALL, and there’s a BIG difference!” Trump tweeted at the time.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican and close ally of the president, described the wall as a “metaphor for border security” on Sunday. Graham made the remark to reporters after leaving a lunch with Trump at the White House.
WATCH: Graham says Trump is ready to deal with Democrats over border shutdown
“I campaigned on Border Security, which you cannot have without a strong and powerful Wall,” Trump tweeted on Monday.
The U.S. government is currently mired in the second week of a partial shutdown after Trump refused to approve a spending bill that did not include $5 billion for constructing the wall. A second version of the bill with $5.7 billion for the wall passed in the outgoing Republican-held House but failed to secure enough votes in the Senate.
WATCH: Blame game escalates over U.S. government shutdown
The Democrats are poised to assume a majority of the seats in the House on Jan. 3. They’ve already said they will not pay for Trump’s wall.
The president said he would gladly own the shutdown over border security on Dec. 11 in a heated exchange with Democrat leaders at a photo op in the White House.
WATCH: Trump says he will shut down government over border security
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at the time. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”
However, the president has since repeatedly blamed Democrats for the shutdown.
“The Democrats now own the shutdown!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 21.
Both sides are dug in on their stances over the wall.
Democrats maintain that they have already presented the White House with three options to end the shutdown, none of which fund the wall, and insist that it’s Trump’s move.
“At this point, it’s clear the White House doesn’t know what they want when it comes to border security,” Justin Goodman, Schumer’s spokesman, told the Associated Press.
“While one White House official says they’re willing to compromise, another says the president is holding firm at no less than $5 billion for the wall. Meanwhile, the president tweets, blaming everyone but himself for a shutdown he called for more than 25 times.”
Conway claimed Sunday that “the president has already compromised” by dropping his request for the wall from $25 billion, and she called on Democrats to return to the negotiating table.
—With files from the Associated Press
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