[dropcap]C[/dropcap]APITOL HILL — U .S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday proclaimed the country’s southern border with Mexico secure against illegal migration, but said that if opposition Democrats don’t give him the votes to build a border wall he’ll order the U.S. military to do it.
In one of a string of Twitter comments, the U.S. leader said, “People do not realize how much of the Wall, including really effective renovation, has already been built.”
He said that “large Caravans” of migrants – several thousand people from Central American nations trying to escape poverty and violence in their homelands – had been blocked from entering the United States because of “our newly built Walls, makeshift Walls & Fences, or Border Patrol Officers & Military . They are now staying in Mexico or going back to their original countries.”
Trump declared, “Our Southern Border is now Secure and will remain that way.” But he said, “A Great Wall would be, however, a far easier & less expensive solution.”
Trump vowed during his 2016 run for the White House to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. As president, however, Trump has sought U.S. taxpayer funding for it, but been thwarted by Congress, where Republican colleagues of Trump have mixed views on it and Democrats are uniformly opposed to it.
Trump wants $5 billion included in the 2019 budget as a start toward funding the wall, which could cost $20 billion or more. But Democrats have offered no more than $1.6 billion for more border security, not specifically for the wall.
Trump is discussing wall funding Tuesday at the White House with the top two Democratic leaders, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, now the House minority leader who is likely to become House Speaker next month when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives after picking up 40 seats in the nationwide congressional elections in early November.
Trump said Democrats “were right” to vote for a wall in 2006, but that construction was for a less-ambitious fencing plan than Trump wants for a wall that could be more than 15 meters tall.
“Today, they no longer want Border Security,” Trump said of Democrats. “They will fight it at all cost.”
In a joint statement Monday, Schumer and Pelosi said, “This holiday season, the president knows full well that his wall proposal does not have the votes to pass the House and Senate, and should not be an obstacle to a bipartisan agreement” to fund several agencies past Dec. 21 to avert a partial government shutdown.
Last week, Pelosi called the wall “immoral, ineffective and expensive.”
About three-fourths of federal government operations have already been funded through next September, but the Department of Homeland Security, which would include wall funding, is not among the agencies yet with an approved 2019 funding plan.
Debate over the spending marks the final legislative action of the Republican-controlled Congress and a must-pass bill to avert a partial government shutdown ahead of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Trump’s meeting with Schumer and Pelosi will be the first test of the president’s ability to negotiate bipartisan deals following the Democratic takeover of the House that takes effect in early January.
Trump and Pelosi initially expressed interest in working with each other on bills addressing infrastructure and prescription drug prices. But Pelosi rejected the possibility of compromise on border wall funding.
Trump says the border wall with Mexico will stop an invasion of migrants from Central America into the United States.
“Could somebody please explain to the Democrats (we need their votes) that our Country loses 250 Billion Dollars a year on illegal immigration, not including the terrible drug flow. Top Border Security, including a Wall, is $25 Billion. Pays for itself in two months. Get it done!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 4.
The administration received $1.375 billion in funding for border security in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30. It did not include money for building a wall.
“The idea that they haven’t spent last year’s money and they’re demanding such a huge amount this year makes no sense at all,” Schumer said.
Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.