After more than a month, the government is still partially shut down. Now the meaning and usage of the word “wall” is apparently up for debate.
In a confusing discussion with CNN reporter Abby Phillip, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway asked why Phillip and recent CBS polls on the ongoing government shutdown kept referring to a “wall” rather than “steel slat barriers.” After nearly four years of demanding a border wall even at the cost of an unpopular government shutdown, the Trump administration now appears to wish to avoid the word “wall” at all costs.
“I’m asking why you and the polling questions, respectfully, are still saying ‘wall’ when the president said you can call it whatever you want,” Conway said.
When Phillip responded that President Trump had referred to the wall on Twitter Wednesday morning — tweeting, “BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL” — Conway reiterated her statement: “The president has said many times ... publicly call it what you want to call it but let’s secure our border.”
An exchange between my colleague @abbydphillip and WH counselor Kellyanne Conway on whether to it’s okay to call the president’s wall a wall. It’s worth reading all the way through. pic.twitter.com/NORWvA7K6F— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 23, 2019
Trump has referred to a “wall” on the border since he announced his run for president in June 2015, even featuring a multi-step plan to make Mexico pay for a border wall on his campaign website under the headline “Pay for the Wall” and making it the subject of his third executive order. But whether to refer to physical barriers on the Southern border as a “wall” isn’t about semantics, but about whether Trump can get funding to build on the border at all.
As my colleague Dara Lind has detailed, congressional Democrats in 2018 were willing to give the administration border security funding with the stipulation that what was being constructed wasn’t Trump’s “wall.” And today, the administration is arguing that the funding that has so divided Congress is much in line with what Democrats agreed to last year:
Administration officials argue that Donald Trump has already made a major concession: instead of asking for a solid concrete barrier to stretch across the entire US/Mexico border, he’s asking for a few hundred miles of “physical barriers” that are the same style of bollard fencing already in use before he became president.
That both is and isn’t a real concession.
The Trump administration has consistently supported the “steel slats” fencing model — even before the shutdown, the Department of Homeland Security said that the $5 billion in “wall” money Trump was then asking for would be used for bollard fencing.
But it’s true that the distinction between a “fence” and a “wall” used to matter to members of Congress, specifically congressional Democrats. In 2018, Congress gave Trump a couple billion dollars for border barriers, but justified it by saying that they weren’t “Trump’s wall” per se, because they were the same kind of fencing already in use.
However, Trump himself appears to not have gotten the message, tweeting multiple times Tuesday morning about the need to “BUILD A WALL.”