Email #321: “a political bind”?

Regarding President Trump “Great Wall,” you said last Wednesday:

“One of the issues there, of course, is how much wall do you need. We’re not going to build a wall that’s 30 feet high along the entire 2,000 miles of our southern border, but walls in particular places, particularly where there’s high-trafficked areas, where there’s lots of criminal cartel activity on the other side, where there are major urban areas, walls are appropriate.”

I agree that a 2,000-mile is not appropriate. There are 653 miles of wall already in the kinds of high-traffic, high-activity places that you indicated. So could you please specify how many more of the remaining 1, 347 miles you feel require additional construction?

Also, how much are you willing to spend on such construction? We have already spent $7 billion since 2001. The current wall cost $3-4 million per mile. Even without purchasing the privately owned land where the wall would need to extend, employing construction workers, and paying for annual maintenance of upwards of $750 million, the materials for just an additional 1,000 miles would cost $15 billion. Do you consider that the best use of taxpayer money?

President Trump of course promised the wall would cost Americans nothing. He explained in April 2016:

“Mexico currently receive $24 billion in remittance payments annually from the United States. This provides substantial leverage for the United States to obtain from Mexico the funds necessary to pay for a border wall. It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.”

Though as a candidate the President threatened to change a Patriot Act rule that would cut off money Mexico receives through wire transfers, he has taken no such action. When President Trump did attempt to negotiate with Mexico in August, he did not mention wire transfers and remittance payments. According to published White House phone transcripts, the President only asked that Mexico’s President Peña Nieto stop saying he would refuse to pay:

“The only thing I will ask you though is on the wall, you and I both have a political problem. My people stand up and say, “Mexico will pay for the wall” and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language. But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period. So what I would like to recommend is … we should both say, “we will work it out”… because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall. I am just going to say that we are working it out.”

But although President Peña Nieto agreed to “stop talking about the wall,” the Trump administration and Mexico are not “working it out.” Peña Nieto was absolutely clear:

“my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.”

President Trump was only concerned with how that would make him look, telling Peña Nieto:

“But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”

So the President is in, as he said, “a political bind.” He has a “political problem.” That is very different from having an actual border security problem. He wants a wall not because it is vital for security but because he campaigned on the impossible promise of a Mexico-funded “Great Wall” that encapsulated his simplistic anti-immigration platform.

I know you share many of his immigration attitudes. I also know you are a fiscal hawk—though now with disturbing selectivity. If the current 653-mile wall isn’t sufficient, why have you never sponsored wall-expansion legislation during your previous terms? Why only now is there a sudden need? How many billions of deficit-expanding dollars are you willing to spend bailing the President out of his “political problem”?

What happened to the Bob Goodlatte who wanted to “put an end to deficit spending”? What happened to the Bob Goodlatte who said: “Families all across our nation understand what it means to make tough decisions each day about what they can and cannot afford and government officials should be required to exercise similar restraint when spending the hard-earned dollars of our nation’s citizens.”

Where is your restraint now?

Email #285: “essentially, it’ll be brand-new”?

Because President Trump failed to express condolences about the devastating earthquake in Mexico earlier this month, Mexico rescinded its offer to aid U.S. victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The President later tweeted an excuse: “Spoke to President of Mexico to give condolences on terrible earthquake. Unable to reach for 3 days b/c of his cell phone reception at site.” But, as he demonstrated in his tweet, the President always has access to his Twitter account and could have expressed condolences at any time.

While Mexico always stated openly and directly that it would not fund the building of a border wall despite what the President promised throughout his campaign, the notion of a Mexico-financed wall has become that much more impossible. The President of Mexico told President Trump last month: “my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.” This once again nullified the President’s “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” call for an Act that “Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall.”

Fortunately, even the President is setting aside such notions now. He said last week: “We’re working on a plan for DACA. The wall will come later.”

This is good news for you since you’ve been so opposed to expanding government spending. You said even before President Trump was elected:

“We are at a crossroads in America. We can make the tough choices and control spending, paving the way for a return to surpluses and ultimately paying down the national debt, or we can allow big spenders to lead us further down the road of chronic deficits and leave our children and grandchildren saddled with debt that is not their own.”

The big spenders now are members of your own party who want Congress to expand the budget even further to include wall construction. As your fellow Virginian Rep. Brat said last week in response to the President: the wall was “what the whole election was about.” And that wall will add $25 million to the deficit—money that Mexico will never reimburse.

Given your career as a staunch deficit hawk, will you oppose any future calls for a deficit-expanding “Great Wall”?

Regardless, the President has already signalled how he intends to manuever out of his current predicament. He said last week: “Just so you understand, we’re renovating massive sections of the wall right now. And essentially, it’ll be brand-new and we’ll be able to use that.”

The President will declare that money already allocated and being spent on border maintainance fulfills his campaign promise to build a wall because it’s “essentially brand-new.” I predict that before the end of the year President Trump will say: “The wall is there. It’s there. It’s built. Look for yourself. I kept my promise. I said there would be a wall and there’s a wall.”

If this move to a moderate position works, he will placate both the left and right–including you by avoiding increased spending. But his opponents on both the far right and far left could still oppose him. Where will you stand?

Email #139: “ridiculous”?

Next Saturday is a huge day. It’s the deadline for Congress to avoid a government shutdown, and it marks President Trump’s 100th day in office. The two dates coincide because the Trump administration asked for a delay on passing a 2017 spending bill—even though the 2017 fiscal year officially began October 1. The President seems to be asking for an extension on his first 100 days too, now calling it a “ridiculous standard,” even though his campaign promoted the idea with a “contract” listing all the accomplishments he promised by April 29th.

The President’s most repeated and most popular campaign promise was to build a “Great Wall.” His “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” called for an Act that “Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall.” Even polls in January showed only 19% of Americans believed him, but according to him: “The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!” Even Senate leader McConnell contradicted that claim.

The President also claimed it would cost far less than the widely estimated $25 million: “I am reading that the great border WALL will cost more than the government originally thought, but I have not gotten involved in the design or negotiations yet. When I do, price will come WAY DOWN!” But General Kelly, President’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, says it will actually cost way more: “A physical barrier, in and of itself, will not do the job. If you were to build a wall from the pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, you’d still have to back that wall up with patrolling by human beings, by sensors, observation devices.” That means that cost isn’t just construction. A wall would also require additional sensors, cameras, and patrollers, which, on top of maintenance, would add continuing annual costs too.

I fear the President is so desperate for the appearance of accomplishment that Congress will use the budget deadline to try to push through a rushed and ill-advised spending bill that includes wall construction. That attempt will shut the government down as the GOP shut it down in 2013 and twice in 1996. Those times Congress had Clinton or Obama in the White House to rally against. This time Republicans control every branch of government, making it impossible to blame Democrats for another unpopular shutdown.

Other deficit hawks have signaled they will not support adding deficit-deepening wall construction in the next appropriations bill. You, however, said in January that you support the President’s “Great Wall” plan. If you still do, I hope you recognize how “ridiculous” it would be to attempt to enact it this of all weeks.

Please vote to maintain current spending levels in the continuing resolution that Congress must pass by Saturday.