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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 April 2019

Trump backed away from wall months ago says General Kelly

Mr Kelly made the comments in an exit interview.

Kelly is leaving the White House in January after 17 months in Mr Trump's administration.AFP
Kelly is leaving the White House in January after 17 months in Mr Trump's administration.AFP

US President Donald Trump long ago backed away from his campaign pledge to construct a wall along the Mexico border, his outgoing chief of staff said, as the president's demand for "border security" funding triggered a partial government shutdown with no end in sight.

John Kelly, who will leave his post on Wednesday after a tumultuous 17 months in the job, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that Trump abandoned the notion of "a solid concrete wall early on in the administration." It marked the starkest admission yet by the president's inner circle that his signature campaign pledge – which sparked fervent chants of "build that wall" during Trump's rallies and is now at the centre of a budgetary stand-off – would not be fulfilled as advertised.

"To be honest, it's not a wall," Mr Kelly said, adding the mix of technological enhancements and 'steel slat' barriers that Mr Trump now wants resulted from conversations with law enforcement professionals.

The partial shutdown began on December 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Wednesday. Democrats have remained committed to blocking the president's priority, and with neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the shutdown effect is set to spread and to extend into the new year.

In August 2015 during his presidential campaign, Trump had made his expectations for the border explicitly clear, as he parried criticism from then-rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.

"Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a 'fence'," he tweeted. "It's not a fence, Jeb, it's a wall, and there's a big difference!"

But on Sunday, White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway called discussion of the apparent contradiction "a silly semantic argument."

"There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements," Ms Conway told Fox News. "But only saying 'wall or no wall' is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border."

Meanwhile, neither side appeared ready to budge off their negotiating positions. The two sides have had little direct contact during the stalemate, and Trump did not ask Republicans, who hold a monopoly on power in Washington until January 3, to keep Congress in session.

Talks have been at a stalemate for more than a week, after Democrats said the White House offered to accept $2.5 billion as border security funding.

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Conway claimed Sunday that "the president has already compromised" by dropping his request for the wall from $25 billion, and she called on Democrats to return to the negotiating table.

"It is with them," she said, explaining that Trump is not reaching out to Democrats.

Democrats maintain that they have presented the White House with three options to end the shutdown, none of which fund the wall, and insist that it is Trump's move.

"At this point, it's clear the White House doesn't know what they want when it comes to border security," said Justin Goodman, Mr Schumer's spokesman. "While one White House official says they're willing to compromise, another says the president is holding firm at no less than $5 billion for the wall. Meanwhile, the president tweets blaming everyone but himself for a shutdown he called for more than 25 times."

After cancelling a vacation to his private Florida club, Trump spent the weekend at the White House. He has remained out of the public eye since returning early Thursday from a 29-hour visit to US troops in Iraq, instead taking to Twitter to attack Democrats. He also moved to defend himself from criticism that he could not deliver on the wall while his government controlled both the House and Senate.

He was set to have lunch on Sunday with Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, who said he hoped to end the shutdown by offering Democrats incentives to get them to vote for wall funding.

"To my Democratic friends, there will never be a deal without wall funding," Mr Graham said Sunday on CNN.

As he called for Democrats to negotiate, Mr Trump brushed off criticism that his administration bore any responsibility for the recent deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody. Mr Trump claimed the deaths were "strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally." His comments on Twitter came as his Homeland Security secretary met with medical professionals and ordered policy changes meant to better protect children detained at the border.

Updated: December 31, 2018 09:45 AM

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