Misleading about progress on his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall is nothing new for President Trump. But now we have evidence that he knows he’s stretching the truth.
On Wednesday, he tweeted a video supposedly showing “the wall” being built in New Mexico; he retweeted the clip Thursday.
“THE WALL IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION RIGHT NOW!” he wrote.
The U.S. government, of course, is not constructing a massive new wall along the southern border. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote last year that the work going on along the Mexican border is actually renovation of existing barriers — and it is technically not a “wall” but fencing. The video Trump tweeted this week is of a project in New Mexico where existing vehicle barriers were replaced with higher bollard fencing along a 20-mile stretch, using money appropriated in 2017 (during Trump’s first year in office).
It’s a far stretch from what Trump’s grand vision was about, which was lining 1,000 miles more of the border with new wall. Trump is yet again playing a game and trying to save face, given his lack of progress in getting funding for new miles of barriers.
But here’s what makes this all different now: In an exchange last week, Trump actually admitted that he could only renovate existing barriers and not build new wall.
We’re right now in construction with wall in some of the most important areas. And we have renovated a tremendous amount of wall, making it just as new.
That’s where a lot of the money has been spent -- on renovation. In fact, we were restricted to renovating. Which is okay, but we’re going to run out of areas that we can renovate pretty soon, so -- and we need new wall.
“We were restricted to renovating.” “We need new wall.” In other words, Trump seemed to acknowledge that he knew what had been built wasn’t really a “new” wall.
With Trump and his 8,000-plus falsehoods as president, the question is often whether he knows the things he’s saying aren’t true — whether he is a habitual liar or just doesn’t know any better. (I’m not sure the latter is a better option, for what it’s worth.) Here, he seemed to indicate that he knew exactly how much progress had been made beyond renovating existing barriers, and that it was nil. Now he’s back to tweeting in a way that suggests his wall is being built.
In fact, this little semantic game — of casting renovated barriers as new and fulfilling Trump’s promise — is something to which the Trump administration has tacitly admitted before. Here’s an exchange featuring Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in April 2018, in which she said she considers renovated wall to be “new wall":
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, how much wall can you build with the money that you currently have?
NIELSEN: So the currently appropriated will build about 150 miles.
QUESTION: The $1.6 billion from the omnibus?
NIELSEN: So that’s for ’17 and ’18 together. Yes. And we have started building, as you know. So we’re building real time in Calexico.
QUESTION: So the new wall — how much new wall have we built at this point?
NIELSEN: New wall. So this is an important question. To us, it’s all new wall. If there was a wall before that needs to be replaced, it’s being replaced by a new wall. So this is the Trump border wall. In many cases, it will —
QUESTION: So replacing current wall would count as new wall, in your words?
NIELSEN: Yes, it would.
“This is the Trump border wall,” Nielsen said of fencing that was replacing existing barriers.
Saying this is “new wall” is perhaps defensible. It’s technically new material being put in the place of older material and is in some cases higher and more difficult to scale.
But the impression left is that this “new wall” is part of the 1,000 miles of wall Trump promised. But wall renovation is something that predated his administration. Indeed, former president Barack Obama could claim that he, too, built “the wall,” given that funding was appropriated for renovation on his watch.
“It’s a replacement project,” Mike Peterson, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ South Pacific Division, told the publication Task & Purpose about the New Mexico project. “I’ve been in this division for 12 years, and we were doing border wall replacement work back then.”
In other words, Trump knows he’s just renovating the barriers and that it’s nothing unusual. He admitted as much last week. But what seemed to be a moment of clarity has apparently passed. And it is more evident than ever that he is deliberately misleading his supporters.