White House

‘If you can climb that, you deserve whatever you can get’ Trump says on wall visit

President heads to California one day after backing off — sort of — closure threat

President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference to announce his national emergency delclaration for the situation at the southern border on Feb. 15 in the White House's Rose Garden. He traveled to the border on Friday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images file photo)

ANALYSIS — One day, President Donald Trump seemed dead set on closing ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border. The next, he had shelved that threat — maybe — for another aimed at pressuring Mexican officials to curb migrant flows into the United States.

That followed a retreat by the president on trying to pressure congressional Republicans into another attempt to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s entire 2010 health law. Fittingly, the latest roller coaster-like week of the Trump era ended with a presidential trip to the southern border.

[‘Remain in Mexico’ policy for migrants creating ambiguity, fear]

Even before Trump departed the White House Friday morning with another impromptu press conference on the South Lawn — with him and reporters shouting over Marine One’s engines — the trip had the feel of a campaign event. After all, Trump will head to a private residence in Los Angeles for a fundraiser, then one Saturday in Las Vegas, before addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition and Sheldon Adelson, one of the party’s biggest donors.

Roll Call is tracking Trump’s day, and trip to Calexico, California, where he landed at 2:37 p.m. EDT.

5:14 p.m. - “I want to thank the president of Mexico,” POTUS said, referring to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office late last year, saying he is “the first one” who stopped migrants on their trek from Central America toward the U.S. southern border. That came just a day after he threatened to slap 25 percent tariffs on Mexican-made autos unless the Mexican government got tough on migrants.

5:04 p.m. - “If you can climb that, you deserve whatever you can get,” Trump said about the replacement barrier.

5:02 p.m. - Standing in front of the section of barrier, as the wind blew his hair and suit jacket, Trump described the new structure as “better, faster and less expensive - other than that, who knows?”

4:57 p.m. - Trump is touring a 30-foot-tall, 2.25-mile-long barrier. The White House in a statement described it as “barrier replaced fencing that was made of landing mats from the Vietnam War.” While Democratic members are correct the plans for the replacement barrier were formed during the Obama administration, funding was not acquired until after the 44th president had left office.

4:51 p.m. - As the president got a firsthand look at the border barrier in Calexico, his personal legal team joined White House aides in fighting House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal’s request for his tax returns and those of eight related Trump businesses. The demand “flouts…constitutional constraints,” attorney William Consovoy wrote in a letter to IRS general counsel Brent McIntosh. Consovoy identified himself as representing Trump regarding Neal’s request.

Ways and Means has jurisdiction over taxes, but has no power to investigate or examine individual taxpayers, Consovoy wrote in his four-page letter. “Enforcement of our nation’s tax laws is entrusted to the IRS – an arm of the Executive Branch. Indeed, the IRS is already conducting its own investigation.” Consovoy urged that the IRS “should refrain from divulging the requested information until it receives a formal legal opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.” Consovoy added that he and attorneys representing Trump in connection with the IRS’ examination “welcome an opportunity to meet and discuss these issues.” — Doug Sword

4:29 p.m. - “Let’s go see the wall,” Trump said. Earlier, he slammed Democrats over blocking his full request for wall funding. “It’s really hard to get money from the Democrats,” he said, adding his administration is “getting a lot of money in” for other things, “but the wall is like pulling teeth.” He’s now off to see the wall.

4:23 p.m. - When it was Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s turn to speak during a press conference at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Calexico, he claimed House Republicans want to do “bipartisan” work to “solve this problem.” He did not offer any new proposals that his party and Democrats might agree on that also could get Trump’s signature. Minutes later, Trump asked which immigration policy is “dumber,” so-called “chain migration or Visa lottery?”

4:12 p.m. - “I know about hoaxes. I just went through a hoax,” Trump said of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia election meddling and obstruction of justice investigation. Many migrants’ alleged plans to just step foot on U.S. soil and then get released into the general population by claiming asylum is also “a hoax,” he said. Pro-immigration lawmakers and analysts, however, say the president is wrong. And when it comes to the Mueller probe, Democratic members insist it’s too early for the president to claim victory, since they and the public have yet to see the former FBI director’s full report.

4:02 p.m. - The president railed against previous barrier plans that called for “doors” with “hydraulic” that one could “drive a truck through.” He said he has overturned those plans and nixed the doors, which he said are too expensive. But American Immigration Council analyst Aaron Reichlin-Melnick tweeted that “what he misses, of course, is that such walls are literally useless in stopping asylum seekers.”

3:58 p.m. - Gloria Chavez, chief patrol agent in the El Centro sector for Customs and Border Protection, presented Trump with what she described as a piece of border wall that was installed there. It included an engraved message thanking him for his border security policies. Trump beamed.

3:54 p.m. - POTUS gave a shout-out to often-embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter, who is the among the Golden State GOP lawmakers with him at the southern border in California. Full list, according to the White House: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Ken Calvert, Chuck Fleischmann, Kay Granger, Doug LaMalfa, Tom McClintock, Mike Rogers and Hunter. “Thank you, Duncan,” Trump said.

3:48 p.m. - “There’s not much they can do except say, ‘Wow. What was that I just saw on television?’”

That was Trump describing what he says are congressional Democrats’ collective reaction to the situation there. Publicly, however, Democrats have yet to take up the kind of dire rhetoric about the situation. To would-be migrants, Trump said: “The system is full. We can’t take you anymore. ... Our country is full.”

The remark is likely to rile Democrats, including some of that party’s 2020 White House hopefuls like O’Rourke, who has said, if elected, he would tear down the existing border barriers, most of which were supported by the Obama administration and large numbers of congressional Democrats.

3:45 p.m. - The president said some of his “biggest” political foes are starting to also call the situation at the border — with the increases in attempted crossings and apprehensions — a “crisis.” Obama DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson this week said, when he was in office, 1,000 apprehensions a day would have constituted a crisis — those figures now approach 4,000 on some days, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

3:42 p.m. - Trump arrived at U.S. Border Patrol station in Calexico for the roundtable, saying he expects to return “many times.” Trump said he expects 400 miles of barrier to be “done” within two years. Democrats, however, have expressed doubts about such claims.

Reporters traveling with the president described a smattering of Trump supporters lining the roads there, some with signs, like one that read: “Build the Wall for Our Safety.” The president defended his administration’s decision not to “take people,” meaning migrants, instead forcing them to remain on Mexican soil, saying “the [U.S. immigration processing] system is full.”

2:37 p.m. - Air Force One touched down at Naval Air Facility El Centro in California. POTUS now heads to Calexico for an immigration roundtable, followed by a tour of a section of border barrier the White House describes as “new.” But Democrats and some analysts say it is merely replacement fencing planned pre-Trump. The structure he will see is a microcosm of the entire border fight in Washington.

1:50 p.m. - White House officials were unable Friday to explain the withdrawal of Ron Vitiello’s nomination to lead ICE. Several officials merely referred Roll Call to the president’s remark earlier Friday about wanting to go in a “tougher” direction.

10:01 a.m. - Marine One lifts off after the president took questions for around 10 minutes, repeating his auto tariffs threat and declaring: “I don’t see Joe Biden as a threat.”

[‘I don't see Joe Biden as a threat,’ Trump says]

“I think he’s only a threat to himself. … He’s been there a long time. His record’s not good,” the president said of the former vice president, who is mulling his third White House bid. “He’d have to run on the Obama failed record. You look at what happened with … North Korea, the Middle East, the economy never got going.”

8:02 a.m. - Trump’s re-election campaign organization released a new video criticizing Democratic 2020 presidential candidates for calling the increase in attempted illegal border crossings and apprehensions “fake” and “a fiction.” It targets Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

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