WASHINGTON — Although President Trump won't get the $1.4 billion he wanted this week to begin building a Southwest border wall, he declared victory Tuesday, saying he will use money from a government funding deal reached by Congress to replace existing border fencing with "an unbreakable barrier."
A bill introduced Monday by congressional negotiators to fund the government through Sept. 30 includes $341 million for replacement fencing and levee gates along the U.S.-Mexico border. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the administration will use the money to replace old "cyclone fencing" with 20-foot-high, see-through walls made of steel.
Congress is expected to pass the bipartisan legislation this week, before current funding for federal agencies expires at midnight Friday.
"This includes swiftly replacing ineffective and failing fencing and walls with an unbreakable barrier," Trump said during a Rose Garden ceremony Tuesday. "So 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, some of which we can keep into the future. They’re in good shape, but we have to bring them back to the highest level. We’ll be doing that with this payment."
Trump and Mulvaney were pushing back hard Tuesday against Democrats' boasts that they defeated Trump by rejecting border wall funding in the spending bill. Mulvaney said the president was angry that Democrats were "spiking the ball" and declaring victory over the administration.
"We handed President Trump a resounding defeat in the omnibus bill," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday night. "It does not fund the immoral and unwise border wall. It does not create a new deportation force."
Trump and Mulvaney touted the $1.5 billion in additional funding for other border security measures the bill does provide, including the money to replace some old fencing with steel walls, including levee walls where there are rivers.
"That's what we got in the bill and that's what Democrats don't want you to know," Mulvaney said at the daily White House news conference. He added later that "the president's priority was to secure the southern border, and this is what this does."
Although Trump often talks about "the wall" as if it's some kind of monolithic structure that would span the entire length of the 2,000-mile border, it would actually be a series of barriers aimed at plugging the most glaring gaps in existing security.
Trump has already vowed to push for funding for the wall in the spending bills for fiscal year 2018, which begins on Oct. 1.
"That fight is going to be this summer," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Tuesday.
And it won't just be Democrats who are challenging Trump over the wall.
Republican leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees put the administration on notice in the government funding bill that they want the White House and the Department of Homeland Security to provide Congress with detailed plans for the wall and other border security measures.
Specifically, the legislation requires Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to submit a plan for improving border security to the Appropriations committees within 90 days after enactment of the 2017 government funding bill.
The plan would include how fencing, personnel, technology and infrastructure will be used. It also must define goals, objectives, activities and milestones to measure the success of border security actions.
An analysis of the wall's impacts on U.S. communities and property owners who live near it would be part of the plan. And it must contain a detailed implementation schedule for how border security funds would be used from fiscal 2017 through fiscal 2021.
Those requirements don't necessarily mean that Republicans on the committees will oppose Trump's request for border wall funding later this year. But it does make it clear that they have a lot of questions they want answered first.
Congress has already spent billions on border security and has become increasingly demanding of homeland security officials to show results. The number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has doubled from more than 10,000 in 2003 to more than 20,000 in 2014. The budget for Customs and Border Protection has more than doubled from nearly $6 billion in fiscal 2003 to more than $13 billion in fiscal 2016.
Lawmakers became warier after they spent $1 billion to construct a failed "virtual fence" — a complex system of sensors, radars and cameras mounted on towers along the Southwest border. The project began in 2005 but was scrapped in 2011 as costs continued to rise and the system failed to function properly.