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Trump's Beltway: Trump promises cheaper wall

Leaked report cites legal complications, puts cost at twice Trump's estimate. PLUS: New security order in works; renewed rift with McCain.

Sun, 12 Feb 2017


US President Donald Trump says he can reduce the estimated cost of a wall with Mexico.

On Friday NZT, Reuters published details of a Department of Homeland Security internal report that estimated the price of a wall along the entire border at $US21.6 billion ($NZ30 billion).

During his presidential campaign, Mr Trump put the cost at $US12 billion.

The Homeland report flags the cost, logistical complications and delays likely to be caused by large sections of the border being on private land, plus a treaty that prevents either the US or Mexico from building on Rio Grande flood plains.

It sees legal challenges as likely, including court battles with any uncooperative private landers.

Once underway, construction would take 3.5 years.

With Mexico refusing to pay for the wall up front, opponents claiming a border tax would leave US conumers picking up the tab, and the need to get an appropriation bill through the House and Senate, the new president is under pressure to bring down the cost.

On social media early Sunday morning NZT, he was confident of achieving that outcome.

"I am reading that the great border WALL will cost more than the government originally thought, but I have not gotten involved in the design or negotiations yet," President Trump tweeted from his Florida resort, where he is hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"When I do, just like with the F-35 FighterJet or the Air Force One Program, price will come WAY DOWN!" (Some Pentagon observers say cost reductions in the Lockheed-Martin F-35 order referenced in the president's tweet had been in the works for months.)

Feb 11: With travel ban facing Supreme Court knockback, president prepares new order
US President Donald Trump has indicated he will take his travel ban fight to the Supreme Court — but timing issues indicate likely to be knocked back.

The nine-member Supreme Court is currently locked up four conservative judges to four liberal judges.

President Trump has appointed the conservative Neil Gorsuch to fill the open position. However, the confirmation process takes an average 25 days, and typically takes a lot longer when the opposition party objects to a candidate (Barak Obama's two nominees took 67 and 88 days respectively to negotiate the Senate).

US pundits say that if the Supreme Court hears the case, it is likely to be under urgency and within a week.

It's therefore likely the travel ban appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court as it stands, with a probability of a 4-4 deadlock. If the Supreme Court decision is indeed tied, then the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal's ruling against the travel ban will stand.

Even if Gorsuch were on the bench, a majority decision in favour of the ban against travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations would not necessarily be upheld. In lower court hearings, two Republican-appointed judges delivered rulings unfavourable to the executive order.

Late Friday, the president told media he had yet to confer with newly-appointed Attorney-General Jeff Sessions over the administration's next legal steps.

Redraft or new security policy?
Mr Trump's "SEE YOU IN COURT" tweet notwithstanding, a Politico report says that behind the scenes, his team is considering a new order that will be more likely to pass judicial scrutiny.

And at a press conference with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the president hinted a re-draft was underway, and/or that a new security-related executive order was on the way.

“We’ll be doing something very rapidly having to do with additional security for our country. You’ll be seeing that sometime next week," President Trump said.

"In addition, we will continue to go through the court process, and I have no doubt we’ll win that particular case.”

Further details were not immediately forthcoming

Reassuring Japan
Elsewhere at the press conference, Mr Trump reassured the Japanese PM that the relationship between the two countries was was a cornerstone of Asia-Pacific security.

The president did not raise his campaign promise for Japan to contribute more to covering the cost of regional security.

Recognising one-China policy
Mr Trump also struck a collegial tone in an earlier phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, saying the US would continue to recognise the one-China policy toward Taiwan.

The president's reassurance helped ease tensions that have been brewing since Mr Trump's December 3 phone call to Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen.

Conway counseled
The Trump White House says senior adviser to the president Kellyanne Conway was “counseled” after using a Fox News appearance to promote Ivanka Trump's clothing and jewelry line.

Ms Conway’s remarks drew criticism from a top Republican lawmaker, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, usually seen as a Trump loyalist. The ethics watchdog called her comments “absolutely wrong” and “clearly over the line.”

Ms Conway's comments came after upmarket retailer Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump-branded products, citing slowing sales. The president took to Twitter to criticise the move, temporarily pushing down Nordstrom's share price. 

Renewed rift with McCain
Mr Trump also took to Twitter to renew his criticism of John McCain, one of several Republicans in the 100-member Senate (where Republicans hold a two-seat majority) who have questioned elements of the travel ban.

Senator McCain again drew the president's ire by saying he would not characterise a recent counter-terror operation in Yemen as a success.

"He's been losing so long he doesn't know how to win any more," the president posted as part of a trio of tweets critical of the Arizona Republican.

Senator McCain did not reply directly, but a spokeswoman for his office told media, "continue to execute his oversight duties as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and support the brave men and women serving our nation in uniform." His daughter did respond directly, with a sharp attack on Mr Trump, delivered via social media.

There was further tension when Senator McCain took to the Senate floor to criticise Russian President Vladimir Putin's human rights record and to ask for light to be shed on the medical misfortune suffered by an opposition leader. Some pundits saw his speech as an implicit criticism of the Trump Administration's plan to drop sanctions against Russia in exchance for cooperation against ISIS.

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Trump's Beltway: Trump promises cheaper wall