Scramble inside West Wing over Trump’s border threat
There was a scramble inside the White House on Monday over President Donald Trump’s threat to shut down the southern border, three people familiar with what happened tell CNN.
After acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said the President would follow through on his threat “unless something dramatic” happened, aides huddled in the West Wing with two goals: find a way to keep Trump from closing the border, and if that wasn’t doable, figure out the logistics in case he does.
Administration officials have been unable to articulate when or for how long the President would close the border, whether that closure would apply to air travel and what it would mean for the US economy.
“It’s something that I’m sure we’ll be looking into and studying,” Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters Monday when asked about the potential impact of a closed border.
Trump is being privately advised by multiple people inside and outside the White House that closing the border is a bad idea. Advisers told him it’s not a sustainable option, underscored how it would disrupt the economy and noted it would anger local border officials throughout the country. Trump sees it a different way — and thinks the move could save the US money.
Mulvaney has told Trump he thinks the base would support the move, like they did his national emergency declaration.
“This isn’t our first choice,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Tuesday of the potential border closure.
When asked if the White House is taking an economic risk in shutting down the border, Sanders said: “The President has spent the past two years helping build up this economy and helping create the boom that we have. He certainly doesn’t want to hurt that, but at the same time his No. 1 job as the President is to protect life and protect Americans.”
Sanders said Trump is not “working on a specific timeline” for when he may close the border.
Part of the Monday scramble included a meeting between Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner, and other aides who weighed presenting new immigration laws to Congress, including potential changes to asylum rules, so they could then shift the blame for recent record-breaking immigration numbers to lawmakers.
It’s unclear whether that will happen.
The sense of panic led to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen cutting her weeklong trip to Europe short. Instead of going to Paris for the G7 meeting, Nielsen will travel to the border Wednesday ahead of Trump’s trip Friday. A person familiar said Nielsen, whose relationship with Trump improved significantly during the government shutdown, has been under a microscope in recent weeks as an influx of migrant families have tried to cross the border, putting a strain on immigration enforcement agents.
As of Tuesday morning, a senior administration official said Trump had not made a decision on closing the border yet and that none is expected before Friday. However, this is a fluid situation and this could change.
The President in the last week has polled several of his political advisers about whether he should take the step of shutting down the US-Mexico border, one source familiar with the discussions said. And while some have warned Trump about the economic consequences, several of his political advisers have relished the prospect of another dramatic move that would call attention to what they have described as an illegal immigration crisis on the southern border.