The president’s allies recast what Donald Trump means by a “wall” on Sunday with the president’s head of border patrol calling it more than just a “dumb barrier,” as the government shutdown caused by the administration’s push for wall funding entered its ninth day.
In a wide-ranging exit interview outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told the Los Angeles Times that, despite Trump’s repeated promises to build a border wall, “it’s not a wall.”
“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly said. “The president still says ‘wall’—oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”
Asked about Kelly’s remarks in a Sunday appearance on CNN, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway avoided saying the wall would be an actual concrete wall.
Instead, Conway said Trump’s opponents have been too focused on the definition of a wall, saying that only “people who don’t want to fess up to border security” are interested in what the wall would actually look like. Conway also echoed Trump’s recent push on Twitter for a fence made of “slats,” rather an actual concrete wall.
“It is a silly semantic argument because people who just want to say ‘wall, wall, wall’ want it to be a four-letter word,” she said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
“There may be a wall at some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements,” Conway said. “But always saying ‘wall’ or ‘no wall’ is being very disingenuous.”
Trump and congressional Democrats are at odds over a government funding bill, with Trump saying he won’t sign a funding bill that doesn’t include $5 billion in wall funding.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally in the Senate, backpedaled in a Sunday appearance on CNN, saying he would support a $5 billion deal for “the wall-slash-border security” and opened the door to a compromise involving temporary work permits for “Dreamers” brought into the country illegally as children.
Amid the shifting definitions of what Trump’s “wall” would actually look like, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan defended the $5 billion request in an appearance on ABC’s This Week.
“What we’re talking about is not just a dumb barrier,” McAleenan said. “We’re talking about sensors, cameras, lighting, access roads for our agents, a system that helps us secure that area of the border. That’s what we were asking Congress.”
Democrats were quick to seize on the confusion about what qualifies as “the wall.” In an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said Democrats would be happy to fund border security—as long as they knew how the money would actually be spent.
“I don't talk to anybody in the Senate that doesn't want secure borders,” Tester said. “It's just how the money is going to be spent.”