President Trump made a meandering plea for border wall funding Tuesday, just hours before a high-stakes meeting with Democratic congressional leaders as a deadline approaches to reach a budget deal next week and avert a partial government shutdown.
Across five morning tweets, Trump touted his administration’s efforts to deter illegal border crossings, praising Border Patrol officers and the military for doing a “FANTASTIC job” and claiming, “Our Southern Border is now Secure and will remain that way.”
Yet Trump argued that the “Great Wall” he repeatedly promised on the campaign trail would be “a far easier & less expensive solution,” and he accused Democrats of resisting his plans “for strictly political reasons.”
Trump also threatened that if Democrats don’t provide enough votes to build the wall, “the Military will build the remaining sections.” He did not elaborate on how that would be funded.
The president’s tweets came as he prepared to meet at the White House late Tuesday morning with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The Democrats plan to offer Trump $1.3 billion in funding for a border fence, far short of the $5 billion he is demanding to fund portions of a border wall that he long claimed Mexico would pay for.
“I look forward to my meeting with Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi,” Trump said in his tweets, in which he also falsely claimed that Democrats “want Open Borders for anyone to come in” and added: “This brings large scale crime and disease.”
If no spending deal is reached by the end of next week, funding will run out for the Homeland Security Department and other federal agencies. Those agencies, making up about 25 percent of the government, are operating on a short-term spending bill that Congress passed last week to postpone the shutdown deadline.
Tuesday’s meeting will be the first gathering of Trump, Schumer and Pelosi before the deadline. In recent weeks, the two sides have increasingly dug in, and it’s not clear where compromise might lie.
In his tweets, Trump alluded to a political challenge Pelosi faces as she strives to become House speaker next month. To shore up support among fellow Democrats, she is not expected to give much ground to Trump. In recent days, she has called his wall plans “immoral.”
“They will fight it at all cost, and Nancy must get votes for Speaker,” Trump wrote. “But the Wall will get built.”
In his tweets, Trump significantly exaggerated progress on the wall.
For instance, he said his administration has “already built large new sections” and that “people do not yet realize how much of the Wall, including really effective renovation, has already been built.”
An omnibus appropriations bill in March included only about $1.6 billion of the $25 billion he originally sought for border protection and restricted money from being spent on newer wall designs.
Congress did fund the replacement of some existing fencing and some construction of additional fencing, including levee fencing in the Rio Grande Valley.
Trump’s claim that the U.S.-Mexico border is now secure follows the publication of statistics by Homeland Security agencies in recent weeks that they say are indicators of a “crisis” at the border, particularly as more Central American parents arrive with children and turn themselves in to U.S. agents.
The number of people arrested or denied entry along the border reached a new high for the Trump presidency in November, according to Homeland Security figures.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained 25,172 members of “family units” in November, the highest number ever recorded, as well as 5,283 “unaccompanied minors.” Combined, those two groups accounted for nearly 60 percent of all border arrests in November.
Overall, CBP arrested or denied entry to 62,456 border-crossers in November, up from 60,772 in October.
Erica Werner and Nick Miroff contributed to this report.