Season 3 of the alt-reality TV series The Apprentice – White House premiered Tuesday with Donald Trump trying to cash in on the trendy revival of old TV series this season by adding elements of his World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) fake wrestling days. Trump invited Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer over to the White House for some pre-match bluster and braggadocio in an overly contrived episode one: “The Wall Brawl.”
Dana Milbank has the play-by-play. “Let’s get ready to rumble!” Emergency! It’s time for Trump to fabricate another crisis!
Robert Mueller is circling, recessionary clouds are building, and Democrats are rising to power. For President Trump, this can mean only one thing: It’s time to fabricate a new crisis.
And that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Trump summoned Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to the Oval Office on Tuesday for what was supposed to be a negotiating session about border security. Instead, he used them as props in an impromptu, 17-minute reality-TV show.
“Look, we have to have the wall,” Trump bellowed at the Democratic Senate and House leaders — seated awkwardly on couches — while the TV cameras rolled. “This is a national emergency. Drugs are pouring into our country. People with tremendous medical difficulty and medical problems are pouring in, and in many cases it’s contagious.”
Emergency! Drugs and contagion! And then, a threat: “If we don’t get what we want one way or the other. . . . I will shut down the government, absolutely.” The president added: “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. . . . I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.”
The Trump Shutdown. Own it.
Pelosi, who later said she felt like the “mom” in the room, appealed to a raving Trump to calm down, saying, “I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press” and “let us have our conversation” and “let’s call a halt to this” and “this has spiraled downward” and “this is a most unfortunate thing.” Said Pelosi (Calif.): “We’re coming in, in good faith, to negotiate with you about how we can keep the government open.”
But Trump had no such purpose in mind. He was practicing leadership as he knows it: deliberately throw everything into turmoil, see what emerges — and then claim victory regardless of outcome. He kept taunting the two Democrats, mocking their words to the cameras, scowling and interrupting. “You know, Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now,” he told the cameras, referring to a Democratic leadership challenge in the House.
“Mr. President,” Pelosi replied icily, “please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.” Schumer (N.Y.), slouching on the couch opposite, added: “Elections have consequences, Mr. President.”
The meeting, thus sabotaged by Trump, devolved into taunts.
Oddly, no folding chairs were thrown or beaten over the heads of Chuck and Nancy. WWE-Lite, I guess.
And then there was Vice President Mike Pence, who just sat there unmoving, like The Elf on The Shelf or the dead guy in Weekend at Bernie’s. Stephen Colbert’s Late Show imagined a longer internal monologue, with Pence meditating in a strange drawl: “I’m a manila envelope taped to a beige wall. No one can see me.” Mike Pence’s dead-eyed stoicism during the Trump-Pelosi-Schumer fight spawned a rich tapestry of jokes and memes.
The Post’s Milbank continues:
[T]he spectacle — as wild as Kanye West’s monologue in that same room two months ago, but with much higher stakes — suited Trump’s purposes perfectly. As many have observed, his presidency has been one long series of self-generated crises, which he then resolves by more-or-less accepting a restored status quo. He is the arsonist who demands credit for dousing the fire.
* * *
The shutdown is a bit of a bluff. Even the current Republican majority in the House doesn’t have enough votes for Trump’s border wall [Trump, always delusional, insisted to Nancy Pelosi, the best vote counter in Congress, that “Nancy, I’d have it passed in two seconds“] ; as Fox News’s Chad Pergram pointed out to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday, two bills with full border-wall funding failed this summer.
Trump also undermined himself by claiming that, under current funding, which Democrats have approved, “tremendous amounts of wall have already been built,” and he read off statistics about lower illegal border traffic. [Lies for consumption by his FAUX News personality cult of Donald Trump viewers].
Um, so why the “crisis” and need for a shutdown?
As Nancy Pelosi said, we need to have a discussion based upon reality and the facts, not Trump’s alt-reality. Fact check: Trump constructs false, misleading claims about his border ‘wall’:
1. WE’RE BUILDING THE BORDER WALL.
“Tremendous amounts of wall have already been built, and a lot of — a lot of wall,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “In San Diego, we’re building new walls right now.”
This is still false. The government is currently repairing and replacing old sections of border fencing, but construction on a new section of border barrier has not yet begun and won’t this year.
2. A LOT OF THE WALL IS ALREADY “BUILT.”
“But the wall will get built. A lot of the wall is built. It’s been very effective,” Trump said at the White House.
This is misleading at best, given that no new sections of border fencing have actually been built under Trump. The president seems to be referring to the 650 miles of existing fencing or barrier along the southern border, the majority of which was constructed long before he launched his bid for president, as “the wall.” Under his administration, old fencing has been repaired and replaced.
It’s unclear when these existing fences became an accepted part of his vision for “the wall,” since he repeatedly derided fencing on the 2016 campaign trail in favor of a concrete barrier that would run the 2,000 mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.
3. EXISTING BORDER WALL SECTIONS HAVE CAUSED “ILLEGAL TRAFFIC” TO DECLINE.
“If you look at San Diego, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent once the wall was up,” Trump said in the Oval Office, listing off similar numbers for what he said were border wall sections in El Paso, Texas, Tucson, Arizona, and Yuma, Arizona.
Note: One of the stats Trump cited is a wall built in Tucson which resulted in a drop in “illegal traffic” of 92 percent. There is no wall in Tucson, which is some 60 miles from the Mexico border. To be generous, he probably meant the “Tucson Sector.”
Trump’s numbers need context, in part because Trump is referring to sections of the U.S.-Mexico border that are secured by the fencing he derided on the campaign trail and built long before his administration.
Border fencing was installed in San Diego in 1992, and the Department of Homeland Security said that total apprehensions fell 92 percent over the following 23 years.
DHS declined to offer any source data here, but the entire southern border has seen significantly fewer crossings than it did decades ago.
Recent Data: The Number of Undocumented Immigrants in the U.S. Has Dropped, a Study Says. The study published by the Pew Research Center put the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at 10.7 million in 2016, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007. “The sharp decline came largely during the Obama administration and in the wake of the Great Recession. Deportations also sharply rose during that time.”
Charts from the Washington Post:
A result is that the density of undocumented immigrants in the workforce has also declined. As a percentage of workers in the labor force, the density of undocumented immigrants was lower in 2016 (the most recent year analyzed by Pew) than in 2005.
4. MIGRANTS BRING DISEASE.
“People with tremendous medical difficulties and medical problems are pouring in,” Trump said in the Oval Office, echoing an earlier tweet that suggests migrants bring disease.
There’s no evidence of this, according to a new report released last week. A group of 24 medical experts spent two years analyzing whether migration spreads disease, as well as looking into the effects that migrants have on health in their new homelands. Their conclusion: Immigrants make up a significant portion of the health care workforce, and migration boosts economies overall.
5. TEN TERRORISTS WERE JUST CAUGHT BY BORDER AUTHORITIES.
“We caught 10 terrorists over the last very short period of time. Ten. These are very serious people. Our border agents, all of our law enforcement has been incredible what they’ve done. But we caught 10 terrorists. These are people that were looking to do harm,” Trump said in the Oval Office.
There’s no public evidence that border authorities foiled ten terrorists recently. The White House, FBI, and DHS all either did not respond to comment or did not offer information about which ten terrorists were caught to back up Trump’s claim.
However, DHS data does say the agency prevents an average of 10 suspected terrorists — identified on terror watch lists — from entering the U.S. each day.
UPDATE: Asked to clarify whether ten of those recent arrests occurred on the southern border, as the president claimed, DHS simply reiterated its per-day statistic for the year. Trump Administration Won’t Back Up President’s Terror Claim. A request for comment made to the White House was not immediately returned. But data from the State Department shows that in 2017, “there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups… sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
6. THE MILITARY COULD BUILD THE BORDER WALL.
“Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other — whether it’s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call — I will shut down the government,” Trump told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi of the proposed border wall.
This is true, under certain circumstances, according to the Pentagon.
“To date, there is no plan to build sections of the wall. However, Congress has provided options under Title 10 U.S. Code that could permit the Department of Defense to fund border barrier projects, such as in support of counter drug operations or national emergencies,” Defense Department spokesman Jamie Davis said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Post’s Milbank continues:
Pelosi, returning to Capitol Hill, told colleagues privately that “this wall thing” is “like a manhood thing for him — as if manhood could ever be associated with him,” The Post’s Mike DeBonis reported.
Pelosi added, “It goes to show you: You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.” Pelosi brings up Trump ‘manhood,’ says meeting with him was like ‘tinkle contest’ with skunk.
But there’s also something simple at work here. Because Trump’s crises are fabricated — whether over the future of NATO or the border wall — what constitutes a successful outcome is ambiguous. Trump can therefore declare victory no matter what happens. In the border “crisis,” that could mean a deal adding a small amount for security, which probably would have happened anyway.
The country will suffer yet another trauma, Republicans will take another political hit, the status quo will be maintained — and Trump will take credit.
So Trump will force his Trump Shutdown over his “big beautiful border wall” that he has been threatening ever since taking office, and just in time for Christmas.
As Greg Sargent of The Post says, After Trump’s meltdown over his wall, Democrats cannot give any ground:
But ultimately, Tuesday’s events really underscore that Democrats must not give any ground in this showdown. Everyone knows Trump’s call for a wall has zero in the way of real policy justification. As I’ve argued, Democrats must use their new House majority to get back into the fight against Trump’s war on facts, and mount a stand on behalf of empiricism and good faith governing. Trump’s display of lies, bad faith and destructive threats cannot be rewarded. Especially coming after a midterm that Republicans themselves say demonstrated the bone deep toxicity of Trump’s xenophobic nationalism, it must be unambiguously repudiated.