There's a certain routine that occurs over and over again in news media: When the president talks about a major subject at the beginning of a day, his aides go on TV at night to explain and elaborate on what he meant. The same happened on Wednesday night, Jan. 10, when President Donald Trump's adviser Kellyanne Conway went on CNN to discuss, among other things, her boss' stance on immigration. By the end of the interview, Kellyanne Conway told host Chris Cuomo that Trump discovered that we don't need an actual wall across the whole U.S.-Mexico border.
Here's what she had to say:
What's true is that after conferring with the experts who are involved in this process, Christopher, the president has discovered that part of it, he knows, will be the physical wall, part of it is better technology, part of it is also fencing. There are rivers involved, I'm told, there are mountains involved, there's terrain that isn't conducive to building an actual physical structure in some places.
Conway's remarks on the wall were given after the host asked her to clarify whether there was a difference between what Trump promised on the campaign trail — he regularly insisted upon building a "big, beautiful wall" — and what Trump would actually be pursuing in any deal with Congress on immigration reform.
The question was relevant, too, particularly because early Wednesday, Trump tweeted that, "The United States needs the security of the Wall on the Southern Border, which must be part of any DACA approval. The safety and security of our country is #1!"
But there are times are which the president talks about new measures border security as "the wall" — which, again, was a big selling point during the campaign — and other times at which he talks about a mix of preventative measures like new fencing and technology.
Take Trump's televised meeting with Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday, a day before Conway's interview, for example.
I had the big meeting with ICE last week; I had a big meeting with the Border Patrol agents last week. Nobody knows it better than them. As an example, on the wall, they say, “sir, we desperately need the wall,” he told members of Congress at the White House. "And we don’t need a 2,000-mile wall. We don’t need a wall where you have rivers and mountains and everything else protecting it. But we do need a wall for a fairly good portion."
So, yeah, some clarification was indeed needed on this subject, and Kellyanne Conway has now provided it. The Trump administration won't be pushing for a literal wall across the whole border, Conway says, but a mix of barriers and other security tools.
This matters for obvious reasons. Trump used the idea of no compromise on a border wall as a key appeal during his campaign, never mind the idea that Mexico would pay for it.
Now the talk has shifted to what it will cost the United States.
"I must tell you, I’m looking at these prices. Somebody said $42 billion. This is like the aircraft carrier. It started off at a billion and a half, and it’s now at $18 billion," Trump said at the White House on Tuesday. "No, we can do it for less. We can do a great job. We can do a great wall. But you need the wall. And I’m now getting involved. I like to build under budget, okay? I like to go under-budget, ahead of schedule."
That suggestion about building under budget was one that fellow Republican Tom Cotton seemed to laugh at.
The bottom line? Now that it's time to go the negotiating table, though, there's a different reality (which, let's face it, all presidents realize after a campaign full of promises).