WASHINGTON — President Trump frequently said Mexico would pay for a wall along the southern border as he sought the presidency in 2016. Now, he is privately pushing the US military to fund construction of his signature project.
Trump, who told advisers he was spurned in a large spending bill last week when lawmakers only appropriated $1.6 billion for the border wall, has begun suggesting the Pentagon could fund the sprawling construction, citing a ‘‘national security’’ risk.
After floating the notion to several advisers last week, he told Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, that the military should pay for the wall in a meeting last Wednesday in the White House residence, according to three people familiar with the meeting. Ryan offered little reaction to the notion, these people said, but senior Capitol Hill officials later said it was an unlikely prospect.
The individuals spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about private discussions.
In another such interaction with senior aides last week, Trump noted that the Department of Defense was getting so much money as part of the $1.3 trillion spending package that the Pentagon could surely afford the border wall, two White House officials said. The Pentagon received about $700 billion as part of the spending package, which Trump repeatedly lauded as ‘‘historic.’’
Meanwhile, the bill not only included a relative pittance of $1.6 billion for some fencing and levees on the border, compared to the $25 billion Trump was seeking, but it included strict restrictions on how the money can be spent.
A White House spokesman declined to comment.
‘‘Build WALL through M!’’ Trump recently wrote on Twitter. Two advisers said that ‘‘M’’ stood for military.
It would be unlikely for the military to fund the wall, according to White House and Defense Department officials. The president has suggested to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis that the department could fund the construction instead of the Department of Homeland Security, two Trump advisers said.
The Pentagon has plenty of money, but reprogramming it for a wall would require votes in Congress that the president doesn’t seem to have. Taking money from the current 2018 budget for the wall would require an act of Congress, said a senior Pentagon official.
Economy’s strength helps White House poll numbers
WASHINGTON — A growing American economy and passage of a Republican tax overhaul appear to be helping President Donald Trump lift his approval ratings from historic lows, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Trump remains unpopular with the majority of Americans, 58 percent. But 42 percent say they now approve of the job he’s doing as president, up seven points from a month ago. That’s a welcome change in trajectory for a White House that has been battered by chaos, controversies, and internal upheaval.
The poll suggests that at least some of the president’s improving standing is tied to the economy, which has steadily grown and added jobs, continuing a trajectory that began under Barack Obama. Nearly half of Americans surveyed — 47 percent — say they approve of how Trump is handling the economy, his highest rating on any issue. When it comes to tax policy, 46 percent of Americans back Trump’s moves.
Attorneys decline invite to president’s legal team
A prominent Chicago defense attorney said Monday that he had declined an invitation to lead President Trump’s legal team responding to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, underscoring the president’s difficulty in attracting top legal talent to represent him in the probe.
Dan Webb, a Republican, is a former US attorney for Illinois and a corporate and white-collar-defense lawyer for the firm Winston and Strawn.
In a statement, his firm said the president and his team recently reached out to Webb and Washington, D.C.-based partner Tom Buchanan.
‘‘They were unable to take on the representation due to business conflicts. However they consider the opportunity to represent the President to be the highest honor and they sincerely regret that they cannot do so,’’ the firm said. ‘‘They wish the president the best and believe he has excellent representation in Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow,’’ referring to the two lawyers now handling Trump’s defense.
Trump’s legal team has been in crisis mode since last week, after his lawyer John Dowd abruptly resigned Thursday, following strategic disputes with the president and the announcement that Trump was adding Joseph diGenova, an aggressive television personality, to the team.
Trump advisers said they also hoped diGenova’s wife, Victoria Toensing, also a lawyer, would join the group of attorneys representing the president.
But Sunday, Trump reversed course, as Sekulow announced that diGenova and Toensing had conflicts of interest due to current clients and neither would join the team.
Trump and his allies have been reaching out to several lawyers in recent weeks, including some who had turned Trump down after he interviewed them last spring and summer to be his personal lawyer in Mueller’s investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election and whether the president’s campaign coordinated with Russia in this effort.
With a reputation for failing to pay lawyers or follow their legal advice, Trump has struggled to find another top-notch lawyer to take his case.
Trump had asked Sekulow to reach out to Theodore Olson on March 19. By the next morning, after the Washington Post reported the offer to Olson, his firm— Gibson Dunn — was insisting that Olson would not take the job.