Wednesday 23 August 2017

Sean Spicer argues with White House reporters over definition of Donald Trump's Mexican border wall

Row comes as President’s request for $1bn (£780m) for construction denied in budget

Lizzie Dearden

Sean Spicer has been drawn into a public row with reporters over whether Donald Trump’s vision of a “big, beautiful wall” along the Mexican border is actually just a fence.

Journalists gathered at the daily White House press briefing were unimpressed by a series of slides prepared by the press secretary showing different types of barriers.

Charlie Spiering, whose employer Breitbart has prolifically supported Mr Trump, asked why the President was not “fighting for the wall he promised” as funding proposals were turned down in a government-wide budget.

Mr Spicer argued that the current barrier was “porous” after more than 9,000 breaches in five years, showing images of broken fences, tunnels and ramps going over the top, adding: “To replace this with a 20-foot high bollard wall will protect our country.”

But Mr Spiering questioned the images, showing one barrier comprised of steel poles and another low concrete wall with railings along the top, asking whether they were “fences or walls”.

“That is called a bollard wall - that is called a levee wall,” Mr Spicer replied, pointing at the slides.

“There are various types of walls that can be built…that’s what it’s actually called.  That’s the name of it.”

Mr Spiering continued to argue his case, saying Mr Trump was expecting supporters to be satisfied with “tough-guy fencing” replacing chain-link fence along 40 miles of the US’ southern border.

“The President said he was going to build the wall and he’s doing it, and he’s using the best technology…to keep people out, to stop drugs, to stop cartels, to stop human trafficking, and to prevent illegal immigration,” Mr Spicer replied.

The row came day after the press secretary walked out of his own briefing without answering any questions, as incredulous reporters called out “Sean, come on Sean!”.

His adversary has since continued the debate online, highlighting a page of the House of Representatives budget agreement referring to “steel bollard designs”.

The proposals were part of a $1.1tr (£853bn) government-wide spending bill, which has been endorsed by the White House, top congressional Democrats, and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

It provides Mr Trump with an increase in the Pentagon budget but denies the President’s request for $1bn (£780m) for construction along the 2,000 mile US-Mexico border.

The budget instead awards $341m (£264m) for replacement fencing, $170m (£132m) for communications and surveillance, $100m (£78m) for access roads and $1.5bn (£1.3bn) for border security.

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, being passed on to the Senate.

It buys just five months of funding while Mr Trump and his allies battle with congressional Democrats over spending cuts and funding for the wall.

Republicans were surprised by tweets from the President on Tuesday that suggested he was initially unhappy with the measure and might provoke a government “shutdown” in autumn in the hope of getting his way on the wall and other demands.

Mr Trump repeatedly promised his “big, beautiful wall” would be financed by Mexico, which swiftly rejected the notion.

“This includes swiftly replacing ineffective and failing fences and walls with an unbreakable barrier,” the President said during a Rose Garden ceremony.

“And we're putting up a lot of new walls in certain areas. We're putting up a tremendous amount of money to fix the existing structures that we have…make no mistake, we are beginning to build the wall.”

But when addressing the National Rifle Association in Atlanta last week, the President admitted the wall would not run continuously along the entire border, but in “certain areas”, because of rivers.

Most of the existing barriers were built under the Bush administration as part of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, though some of the construction was completed under Barack Obama, when a steel fencing project was started in El Paso.

Independent News Service

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