WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out at Congress on Thursday for failing to deliver his long-promised border wall, unleashing a tweet that accused Democrats of "obstructing" border security and demanded that "REPUBLICANS MUST FINALLY GET TOUGH!"
The trouble for Trump is that it's his own GOP allies - not just his political opponents - who have been standing in the way.
The same Republican lawmakers who rushed through the tax bill Trump wanted, confirmed his first Supreme Court pick and are fighting to defend his second, and have remained largely deferential amid multiple scandals, have taken a far different approach when it comes to one of Trump's most memorable campaign promises - deeming the wall to be impractical, unrealistic and too costly.
"People can climb over the wall or go under the wall or through the wall. We've seen that in different places," said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, explaining why a system of technology, infrastructure and personnel is preferable to a physical wall. "If it's just unattended without sensors, without technology, without people, then it won't work."
Another powerful Republican, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, Ala., said he told Trump that funding a 2,000-mile-long wall could jeopardize money for the military and other core programs.
"Some things are reachable and some things aren't," Shelby said he told Trump. "I'm committed to securing the borders, whatever it takes in this country; it's something we haven't done. But I'm also committed to funding the government."
The GOP's recalcitrance on the wall underscores the extent to which immigration and border issues continue to roil the party in the two years since Trump swept into office vowing to take a hard-line approach on the issue.
The idea of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border remains hugely popular among Trump's core supporters, with chants of "build that wall" still ringing out at his rallies, and numerous candidates in this year's midterms echoing Trump's rhetoric. In Florida, gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis released a campaign ad showing him urging his little son to construct a wall using building blocks.
But the issue is not as clear-cut for many other Republicans. Border state lawmakers face concerns from landowners and businesses that could be face disruption by the construction of a massive barrier. Others represent states and districts with large Hispanic electorates that could be turned off by the idea, while others say the idea of a big wall may be a nice applause line but risks funneling precious funds away from more essential government functions.
Behind all the rationalizing lies a hardening reality: Many congressional Republicans just aren't that into Trump's wall.
Now, Republican leaders are more focused on urging Trump to delay a fight for the wall than on fighting for it themselves. Congress is working to pass a short-term spending bill that would avert a government shutdown Oct. 1 and punt a showdown over wall funding into December, after the November midterms.
Republican leaders have been lobbying Trump to stick with their strategy, which would deliver a big increase in Pentagon spending. The president has speculated publicly that shutting down the government to get more wall money could be good politics, but Republicans fear a shutdown just ahead of the midterms would be disastrous.
No one really knows what Trump will do, and some White House officials have begun preparing a contingency plan for the partial shutdown that would occur if Trump vetoes the spending bill.
Trump is now being told by aides that he will get more wall money after the election - even though many in the White House are concerned there won't be the votes, according to a Trump adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely. Trump asks frequently what the strategy is for getting the wall money after the election.
"I want to know, where is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this ridiculous Spending Bill, and where will it come from after the Midterms? Dems are obstructing Law Enforcement and Border Security," Trump tweeted on Thursday.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a Trump critic who is retiring, said the wall hasn't gotten done because "we have priorities here."
"As much as he wants to say I campaigned on this, this was the central pillar of the campaign, always attached to it was Mexico will pay for it. And they're not, of course," Flake said. "So now for him to come to Congress and say 'pony up,' Congress says no. We never agreed to this."
Administration officials acknowledge privately that there is no plan for how additional funding will be achieved after an election that could see Republicans lose seats in Congress or even their majority.
"I don't know that I see an answer after the midterms in terms of getting money for the wall either," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. "Here we are almost two years into an administration, and significant funding has not happened. . . . Most conservative members are serious about it. I'm not so sure about some of the others."
Meantime, Trump continues to remind aides about the cheers the wall gets at rallies but has expressed concerns that his supporters are not seeing enough progress. "We have to keep saying the wall is already happening," the president said recently, according to the Trump adviser.
The president continually tells lawmakers the wall is a national security issue, and asks whether he can use defense money, according to a senior administration official who requested anonymity to speak freely.
At times Trump has demanded $25 billion for the wall, but a deal giving him that much in exchange for deportation protections for immigrants brought illegally to the country as children fell apart earlier this year, with Democrats blaming the White House and the White House blaming Democrats.
Trump's current ask for the wall is $5 billion for 2019, but Senate Democrats won't go along with that figure after striking a deal with Republicans to provide $1.6 billion for 2019, which was the original White House request.
Republicans including Shelby have tried to convince Trump that the lower number is the best they can do for now, and the issue will have to be worked out after the election.
But earlier this year Trump blew up at aides over the $1.6 billion, saying it was not enough. Former legislative affairs director Marc Short, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and others explained to him that it was what his own budget team asked for. Trump did not understand why they didn't get more - and seemed unaware of what was in his own administration request, according to the Trump adviser. The president has griped periodically about the Office of Management and Budget request.
Then, at a meeting with congressional appropriators in June, Trump demanded $5 billion, without a clear justification for the number.
Trump also has pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to eliminate or modify the filibuster rule that gives Democrats effective veto power over spending bills in the Senate, according to a second senior administration official. McConnell has disagreed.
Officials planned a trip to see prototypes to quell Trump's anger. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and others give him periodic updates with pictures.
"We haven't given up the fight. But if it keeps us from doing other things that are pretty important, like defending the country, then I think it's a fight not worth having right now," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. "Let's get these critical day-to-day functions of the government done, and the American people will be expressing an opinion in the election. We'll see where we're at when we come back."
WASHINGTON - An attorney for Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who is accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, said Thursday that her appearing at a hearing on Monday to detail her claims is "not possible" but she could testify later in the week.
Debra Katz, Ford's lawyer, relayed the response to top staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, requesting to set up a call with them to "discuss the conditions under which [Ford] would be prepared to testify next week."
"As you are aware, she's been receiving death threats which have been reported to the FBI and she and her family have been forced out of their home," Katz wrote to the committee. "She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety. A hearing on Monday is not possible and the committee's insistence that it occur then is arbitrary in any event."
Katz reiterated that Ford would like the FBI to investigate before her testimony.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who had asked Ford's lawyers to respond by Friday morning whether she planned to appear Monday, had no immediate response.
Democratic senators, pointing to the highly-charged Anita Hill hearings in October 1991, have defended Ford's request to have the FBI do its own probe before she testifies. Back then, the FBI report into Hill's allegations of sexual harassment against now-Justice Clarence Thomas was finished on Sept. 26, 1991 - three days after its inquiry began, according to a Washington Post report at the time.
"Someone who is lying does not ask the FBI to investigate their claims," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said Thursday at an event on Capitol Hill. "Who is not asking the FBI to investigate these claims? The White House. Judge Kavanaugh has not asked to have the FBI investigate these claims. Is that the reaction of an innocent person? It is not."
Gillibrand said Senate Republicans' ultimatum of a Monday hearing was "bullying."
Republicans have rejected the comparisons to the Hill proceedings. Grassley wrote in a Wednesday letter to Democrats on the Judiciary Committee that the FBI investigated Hill's accusations against Thomas when they were still not public. Because Ford's accusation is already public, Grassley argued that it was appropriate for the Senate to step in with their own investigation as lawmakers did when the Hill allegation first became public.
A senior Senate Democratic aide noted that reopening FBI background checks was fairly routine; 10 such probes into judicial nominees had been reopened in the last three months alone, the aide said. A Republican aide didn't dispute the figure, but said those updates can be relatively minor, such as adding a nominee's tax records or educational information that had been inadvertently excluded.
A handful of pivotal senators have yet to disclose how they will ultimately vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation, including Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, Alaska. On Thursday, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott - both independents - issued a statement opposing Kavanaugh's nomination.
"Mr. Kavanaugh's record does not demonstrate a commitment to legal precedent that protects working families," Walker and Mallott said in the joint statement, remarks that could put political pressure on Murkowski. "Key aspects of our nation's health-care and labor laws may be at risk if Mr. Kavanaugh receives a lifetime appointment."
Earlier Thursday, Senate Republicans had reiterated their resolve to press forward with a vote on Kavanaugh in the coming days if Ford chose not to testify before the 21-member Judiciary Committee.
"If she doesn't want to participate and tell her story, there's no reason for us to delay," Sen. John Cornyn, Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, told CNN. "I think it all depends on what she decides to do. We've all made clear this is her chance."
Ford has alleged that while she and Kavanaugh were at a house party in the early 1980s, when the two were in high school, Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed, groped her and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as he tried to take off her clothes. Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Republicans have largely stuck to the Monday timeline, as well as Grassley's decision to limit the hearing to two witnesses: Kavanaugh and Ford.
"What is happening with the Judiciary Committee, really, I would call it a railroad job," Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said alongside Gillibrand on Thursday. "They are totally intent on getting Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court come hell or high water . . . You have to ask yourself why."
Hirono spoke at an event on Capitol Hill to highlight a letter of support that was said to have been signed by more than 1,000 alumni of Ford's high school in Maryland. A flood of anti-Kavanaugh protesters also descended on Capitol Hill Thursday while more Senate offices reported receiving threats related to the nomination.
"We're getting a lot of calls, many of which are angry and some of which are threatening," said Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee who has played a central role in the Ford developments.
Cornyn said Thursday that he sees no reason to call additional witnesses since the committee had already held a full hearing on Trump's nominee.
"We already had a hearing," Cornyn said. "That's what I call hijacking the regular committee process to accommodate political interests."
On Thursday, a group of eight Democrats wrote to Trump, asking him to direct the FBI to reopen its background check on Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The Democrats, all of whom served as prosecutors or state attorneys general, noted that President George H.W. Bush asked the FBI to investigate after Hill raised allegations against Thomas.
"Senate Republicans are attempting to make Dr. Blasey Ford testify on just a few days' notice - without having the FBI follow up on her allegations and provide a report first," said the letter, which was spearheaded by Sens. Kamala Harris, Calif., and Amy Klobuchar, Minn. "This strikes us as simply a check-the-box exercise in a rush to confirm Judge Kavanaugh."
- - -
The Washington Post's Gabriel Pogrund and Alice Crites contributed to this report.
Video Embed Code
Video: Republicans are already judging the credibility of Christine Blasey Ford before she even speaks to the Senate Judiciary Committee.(JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
Embed code: <iframe src="https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/63e378e6-bc53-11e8-8243-f3ae9c99658a?ptvads=block&playthrough=false" width="480" height="290" data-category-id="analysis" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>