Trump closes out 2018 with a litany of complaints

President Trump spent the last day of 2018 much the same way he began it — venting his anger on Twitter.

With a partial shutdown of the federal government entering its second week owing to a standoff between the president and congressional Democrats over $5 billion in proposed funds toward construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump began New Year’s Eve explaining his rationale for suggesting that some portions of his “big beautiful wall” might instead consist of a “Steel Slat Barrier.”

The news media had largely based its reporting on the see-through wall on Trump’s own prior tweets on the issue and on outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly’s admission to the Los Angeles Times that the president had long ago modified his signature promise of the 2016 presidential campaign. “To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly said, leaving Trump in damage control mode.

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Donald Trump and Melania Trump make unannounced visit to Iraq
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Donald Trump and Melania Trump make unannounced visit to Iraq
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to speak to members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. - President Donald Trump arrived in Iraq on his first visit to US troops deployed in a war zone since his election two years ago (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, right, and senior military leadership, speaks to members of the media and military personnel at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet members of the military at a hanger rally at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive to visit with members of the military at a dining hall at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump visits with members of the military at a dining hall at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump, accompanied by National Security Adviser John Bolton, third from left, first lady Melania Trump, fourth from right, US Ambassador to Iraq Doug Silliman, third from right, and senior military leadership, speaks to members of the media at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. - President Donald Trump arrived in Iraq on his first visit to US troops deployed in a war zone since his election two years ago (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump takes a photo as he greets members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump greets members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump signs a hat as First Lady Melania Trump looks on as they greet members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. - President Donald Trump arrived in Iraq on his first visit to US troops deployed in a war zone since his election two years ago (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Further clouding the question of what, exactly, $5 billion would build, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., departed a Sunday meeting with the president and declared that the wall “has become a metaphor for border security.”

Graham had also gone to the White House to complain about Trump’s abrupt decision to declare victory over ISIS and remove U.S. troops from Syria. While Graham told reporters he had prevailed in convincing to hold off from promptly removing all U.S. ground forces from Syria, Trump still demanded credit for his administration’s efforts to destroy ISIS.

The “other places” Trump had reportedly decided to remove U.S. troops included Afghanistan, which led retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal to criticize the pullout as “weakening” the incentive for the Taliban to deal with the U.S. Asked if he could work for Trump, McChrystal, who resigned in 2010 after leveling criticism at Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, bristled: “I think it’s important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth as best they know it.”

One of the slogans for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign will be “Promises made. Promises kept,” and the president spent much of the day assuring supporters it was apt.

Despite his campaign promise and years of criticizing Democrats on the issue of border security, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Thursday found that more Americans blame Trump rather than Democrats for the ongoing government shutdown. While media coverage of that poll may gall Trump, the recycled McChrystal soundbites also seemed to have left a mark.

Having canceled much of his previously planned 16-day vacation at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida, Trump chided Democrats for leaving him “all alone” in Washington over the holidays, but did so in a way that left him open to criticism.

Some White House reporters noted that when the president fired off his Oval Office tweet, no Marine was standing guard outside the West Wing door, signifying that Trump was not, in fact, where he said he was. More importantly, while Democrats did vote in favor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized construction of 700 miles of fencing along portions of the U.S. border with Mexico, it was a fraction of the barrier Trump seeks to build. The 2013 vote that passed the Senate by a margin of 67-27 approved the construction of 700 miles of border fencing and a doubling of the number border agents, but it also cleared the path for citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., something conspicuously lacking from Trump’s proposal.

With Democrats hammering the Trump administration over the deaths of two migrant children while in U.S. custody, the president sought to reframe his wall as a moral imperative.

When the Democrats — emboldened after retaking control of the House of Representatives — do return to Washington from their winter break, they will promptly vote on their plan to re-open government. The House will vote on Thursday on a package that funds the Department of Homeland Security at current levels, kicks in $1.3 billion for border security, but does not allocate money for Trump’s wall. Given that intransigence, the nation can almost certainly look forward to yet another year of presidential tweets similar in tone to the one that kicked off 2018.

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