Only days after repeatedly demanding that a spending bill include funding for the border wall, Trump said he would be willing to delay funding it. In a private meeting with conservative journalists on Monday, the president said he would be open to waiting until September to push for wall funding, according to The Washington Post.
On Tuesday morning, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News, “Building that wall and having it funded remains an important priority to him. We also know that that can happen later this year and into next year.”
But just last week, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the border wall funding was one of the president’s biggest legislative priorities and needed to be in the spending bill. The news that Trump is caving on the border wall — one of his biggest campaign promises — comes as he is nearing 100 days in office.
But it’s not just the border wall. Trump has repeatedly walked back his threats during his first few months in office, which will weaken any attempts to bend either party to his will in the future. Trump has similarly proved his threats are empty in his handling of health care legislation and Obamacare payments.
During Republicans’ first attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump told House Republicans that the legislation would not undergo any more changes, even though the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus wanted more of their ideas in the bill.
Before the scheduled vote, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told CNBC, “The president has his offer on the table,” and that he was done negotiating.
But then the president agreed to pull the bill. Trump also sent a clear message to Congress that he would move on to tax reform and other administration priorities after the health care debacle. Trump’s threat to Republicans who did not support the bill was that Obamacare would stay in place and they would take the blame. Trump sent a tweet criticizing the Freedom Caucus. But he walked back his pledge to move on to tax reform only a few days later, and said he would continue to push for the legislation. Now that the Trump administration is trying to get Republicans to refocus on the health care bill, it has been willing to accept even more of the Freedom Caucus’ proposed changes.
Trump made another serious miscalculation when he threatened to stop making Obamacare payments. The payments reduce copayments and deductibles for low-income people, and without them, Obamacare would be significantly weaker. Trump said Obamacare would be “dead next month” if it doesn’t get the funding from Congress, and suggested Democrats would negotiate if payments were under threat.
“I haven’t made my viewpoint clear yet,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal on April 12. “I don’t want people to get hurt….What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”
But the strategy backfired. Democrats said Obamacare payments needed to be in the next bill to avert a government shutdown. After Trump’s threat failed to motivate Democrats to negotiate on health care, Mulvaney told Bloomberg Live that the White House would trade Obamacare payments for wall funding, but Democrats aren’t interested.
Matt House a spokesman for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) told The Hill, “The White House gambit to hold hostage health care for millions of Americans, in order to force American taxpayers to foot the bill for a wall that the President said would be paid for by Mexico is a complete nonstarter.”
Although the president tweeted out a threat to the Obamacare payments on Sunday, there is no evidence that the administration plans to follow through on it. Some Republicans say they would rather have a conversation on what to do with Obamacare payments after the spending bill negotiations are resolved, when Republicans plan to discuss health care legislation.