The White House meeting in the Oval Office
involving President Trump, House Minority leader (soon to be Majority leader and Speaker once again) Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, unraveled in short order into something neither Trump nor White House staff had anticipated. Mike Pence did sit in on the little get together, but was a seat warmer and made Justice Clarence Thomas seem like a chatterbox in comparison. In other words, not a syllable escaped the Vice President’s mouth before or after Trump’s opening diatribe.
The main takeaway in my estimation, was that this confab, staged for public consumption, betrays the notion that some people have that Trump and the Democrats are going to now become all cosy and get in the sack together for the next two years. That has always been a delusion of some conservatives and it remains so. Nothing of the sort can be seen on the horizon. Reportedly, one West Wing official told the Los Angeles Times that Trump was furious after the meeting concluded and flung a folder of papers onto the floor in frustration.
Along with the tantrum, seasoned Trump observers were not surprised to discover that yet again as is always the case with the president, Trump, just like a lazy school child, clearly did not study for or prepare his “class project”. Instead, he opted to substitute baseless claims and ‘alternate facts’ for accurate information – and in order to filibuster the teacher, liberally sprinkled in copious amounts of verbal diarrhea; adjectives the likes of “incredible”, “tremendous”, “spectacular”, “A-1 tip top shape” etc.
When asked for a specific cost to accomplish what he required in the way of funding for the wall, Trump did not have one, so he pulled a number out of thin air (“$5 Billion“). Trump lacks the ability to think on his feet. If he did have that facility, he would have been more creative with the number. He would have vomited out a number that at least had some wonkish veneer to it – something like “$7.4 Billion”. But such manicured deception is, completely over the heads of his cult followers and hence, completely unnecessary.
Throughout the engagement he resorted to repeating the term “border security” countless times as if mere repetition is a substitute for a cogent argument.
One of Trump’s many major “whoppers” (sorry, Burger King), was the deliberate attempt to deceive the American public that “10 terrorists” were recently apprehended at the Southern border.
“We caught 10 terrorists over the last very short period of time. 10. These are very serious people.”
This, as we have previously reported, appears to be something Trump heard second hand, that has been discredited, not by administration outsiders, but by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the State Department.
Most likely, Trump is referring to a false claim made to Fox News in 2014 by House member Duncan Hunter, Jr. (R-CA) – now indicted on 60 counts of campaign fraud, saying that he had been told by the Border Patrol that they had apprehended “at least 10 ISIS fighters” at the Mexican border. In response, DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron said in a official agency statement that:
“The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground. DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border.”
The State Department issued a report titled the “2016 Country Reports on Terrorism”. In the summary statement, Foggy Bottom concluded that:
“There are no known international terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in Mexican territory, and no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.”
In an update to that report, Politifact contacted Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, who responded by email in April of this year that the assessment that no terrorist had traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States, was still the position of the department.
Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said on June 12 at a security forum “on average, my department now blocks 10 known or suspected terrorists a day from traveling to or attempting to enter the United States.”
At face value, that would appear to bolster Trump’s assertion. The problem is that there is no documentation other than a vague statistic to support Ms. Nielsen’s statement. Counter-terrorism experts point out that the bulk of terror suspects are screened from entry via security checks at air and sea terminals together with pedestrian and vehicular border crossings manned by the Border Patrol. Other than official ports of entry, what Trump is attempting to imply, has virtually nothing to do with the Mexican border.
The actual national border that is to some extent, more of a target for persons on the DHS’ watch list, is the Northern border and the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have both issued statements confirming that fact. Clarifying that, even if Trump himself knew better, would not have suited Trump’s racist messaging to his base.
Trump also tried to finesse that under his presidency, “Tremendous amounts of wall have already been built.” Senator Schumer called him on that assertion, responding, “The Washington Post today gave you a whole lot of Pinocchios because they say you constantly misstate how much the wall is, how much of the wall is built and how much is there.”
Getting back to the psychological dynamic of the meeting, Nancy Pelosi illustrated the reason that Democrats are not willing, at this crucial moment, having just seized control of the House, to turn the speaker position over to some unproven alternate as party leader. She did so by quickly establishing actual control of the meeting.
The prime example of how she accomplished this was the manner in which she set the stage for Trump falling into the eventual trap of taking ownership of the inevitable government shutdown. Trump’s momentary impulse, when he was flailing about, was to attempt to frame his intransigence over the wall funding as some sort of virtuous “the buck stops with me” declaration of liability.
Pelosi opened the ball with this loaded statement that got Trump’s attention immediately. “I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a Trump shutdown.” Notice, that she names the impending shutdown for Trump. Trump normally is delighted to have things named after him, but this – not so much.
Trump, after some further back and forth, in acute frustration, because he had come into the engagement with expectations that he would bluff, bluster and bully Pelosi and Schumer into relenting on the wall funding – blurted out:
“And I’ll tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.”
At that moment, House and Senate Republicans cringed, face palmed and felt their palms sweating. Trump, by assuming responsibility for a government shutdown that is always resented by the millions of voters impacted by them, just pulled the GOP into the crazy tent along with him.
While Trump sees the ongoing support of his core political base as his only remaining lifeline, most Americans are not on board with Trump’s hackneyed sales pitch on the wall. Polls have consistently shown a majority to be opposed to Trump’s concept of the wall as border security.
In the latest Morning Consult poll, just 26 percent of voters called funding the border wall a “top priority” – the lowest among the 10 options tested. The wall is a big loser with the emerging ranks of independents in the U.S. electorate. Only 34 percent of them support Trump’s wall.
More to the issue of yesterday’s debacle in the Oval Office, a clear majority of those polled, oppose Trump’s tactic of shutting down the government in order to coerce Congress into further wall funding.
Characteristic of multiple opinion samples, is the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, wherein by a 21-point margin — 57 percent to 36 percent — Americans think the president should compromise on the wall to avoid a government shutdown, rather than stand firm.
But Trump is compelled to double down on a policy that most Americans find dubious and wasteful. Nancy Pelosi summed it up in a comment to fellow Democrats later in the day. “It’s like a manhood thing with him – as if manhood can be associated with him. This wall thing.”