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Trump administration enters new phase for border wall, sets ambitious timetable after securing land

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Trump administration enters new phase for border wall, sets ambitious timetable after securing land

“Build the wall” became the unofficial rallying cry of then-candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Three years later, amid a series of legal and political setbacks that have raised questions about the project’s future, the Trump administration is making a renewed effort to show voters the U.S.-Mexico border wall remains a top priority — touting recent construction and vowing to pick up the pace going into 2020.

BORDER APPREHENSIONS PLUNGE AS TRUMP ADMINISTRATION HAILS MEXICO PACT 

The purchase of critical strips of private land has cleared the way, they argue, for a new phase. The plan, officials told reporters at a briefing this week, is to construct upwards of 450-500 miles by the end of next year — a massive undertaking representing nearly eight times what construction teams have erected to date.

“It’s going up fast and we’re putting it where the Border Patrol most wants it,” Trump said in a video message Sunday. “We’re taking money from all over because, as you know, the Democrats don’t want us to build the wall — they’re fighting us at every step.”

The president has made recent gains in his immigration agenda. The administration announced new stats on Monday showing the number of border apprehensions in August was 64,006 — a plunge of 56 percent since May. While still historically high, administration officials said it shows diplomacy efforts with countries like Mexico is paying dividends.

Meanwhile, the administration has announced a formal “public charge” rule cracking down on immigrants who claim welfare, an overhaul to the Flores settlement that limits how long children and families can be kept in custody, and a rule that stops asylum seekers who have passed through other countries from claiming asylum in the U.S.

While many of the government efforts are facing major court challenges and decried by critics as an overreach, they mark an aggressive push to crack down on illegal immigration and overhaul the legal immigration system.

The wall has faced its own set of challenges. Trump struggled to get funding from Congress and faced hurdles like the challenge of securing private land needed for new wall construction. Democrats are almost entirely opposed to a wall, saying it is a waste of money and against American values.

But in July, the court sided with the administration in lifting a freeze that halted plans to use Pentagon money for wall construction. Last week, the Pentagon announced it intends to shift $3.6 billion to wall construction as part of a series of moves the administration is using to get around the congressional logjam when it comes to wall funding.

The administration touts that approximately 60 miles of “new border wall system” have been built so far. Critics note that this represents replacement wall in areas that already had existing barriers and fencing. But administration officials have pushed back, saying what’s being replaced is largely landing-mat barriers that can be pushed over or “Normandy-style” crosses that can be stepped over. Administration officials pose the Seussian question: If a wall can easily fall, then is it even a wall at all?

“When you take that down and you put in what is being built now — that is a new wall,” one official said at a briefing in Washington earlier this week. “It’s 30 feet tall, it’s embedded in concrete, the structure is incredibly strong, it has anti-climbing techniques, it’s also got additional technology — lighting, access roads, etc so it really is a wall system. So anywhere the wall is being built, it’s new wall.”

Arguments about new or replacement wall aside, the administration is now planning an aggressive push to build more wall by the end of next year — which happens to be when the presidential election is being held. “Build the wall” will surely return to the rally rotation as the Trump re-election campaign moves into full swing.

Perhaps driven in part by political urgency, Trump has lit a fire under his team to get the job done. According to The Washington Post, he told aides he wants the 500 miles done by Election Day and has suggested he would pardon officials if they break the law. The White House has denied that Trump floated pardons.

Much of that 500 miles is what the administration is calling “new linear wall” – wall where there was no structure before. Officials say they are anticipating building 100 miles of “new linear wall” miles in the Rio Grande Valley sector alone.

As for where, they say they are listening to agents on the ground, and different sectors have different needs. In the Laredo sector, for instance, agents told Fox News last month that the wall was a top priority as they face a higher number of single adult males crossing the border and evading capture.

ON THE BORDER, OFFICIALS SEE DIVIDENDS FROM TRUMP’S DEAL WITH MEXICO

Democrats, meanwhile, have objected to the cost of the wall and the project as a whole. On Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., noted that Trump had promised Mexico would pay for the barrier and called it “an ineffective wall that was based on a cynical campaign promise, and bears no relation to the real national security issues this country faces.”

Administration officials deny that this amounts to a presidential vanity project..

“This isn’t like we’re building just to show we’re making progress, we’re building where Border Patrol have said their priorities are,” another official said.

They are also saying they are putting up wall quicker than past administrations. After the Secure Fence Act passed in 2006 under the Bush administration, the path from appropriations to digging was a two-year cycle; now officials say they’ve been getting the process done in less than a year.

Additionally, one of the hurdles facing the administration has been that much of the territory they need for the project is on privately owned land — requiring the government purchase land, a lengthy process. Now that a lot of that land has been bought, officials say the pace can pick up and crews can build multiple structures simultaneously.

“We’ve been doing that, so you’re going to see the pace of this construction of new linear miles in areas that were not federally owned accelerate over the coming weeks and months, especially when the DoD gets in the game,” the official said. “So we’re going to go from two to three miles a week to a lot more.”

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Trump supporters will be keeping a close eye on what is going on with wall construction. On Monday night, Trump attended a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., where he tagged Democratic House candidate Dan McCready as a proponent of “sanctuary cities.”

“We’re building that wall and it’s very big,” he said.

The sustained chant that followed was both a message of support and an instruction to the president: “Build the wall,” they chanted.

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Trump rips New York Times over Kavanaugh piece, calls for resignation of anyone involved in ‘SMEAR story’

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Trump rips New York Times over Kavanaugh piece, calls for resignation of anyone involved in 'SMEAR story'

President Trump blasted The New York Times over its supposed bombshell report on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, calling on “everybody” involved in the “smear” to resign.

“I call for the Resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in the Kavanaugh SMEAR story, and while you’re at it, the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is just as phony!” Trump tweeted Monday evening.

“They’ve taken the Old Grey Lady and broken her down, destroyed her virtue and ruined her reputation… She can never recover, and will never return to Greatness, under current Management. The Times is DEAD, long live The New York Times!”

NEW YORK TIMES CRITICIZED FROM BOTH SIDES OVER NOW-REVISED KAVANAUGH ALLEGATIONS

Late Sunday, The New York Times walked back an explosive report about a resurfaced allegation of sexual assault by Kavanaugh from his college days. The piece by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, adapted from their forthcoming book, alleged there was corroboration of an incident in which Kavanaugh, as a college student at Yale, exposed himself to a female classmate at a party.

However, The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway — who reviewed an advance copy of the book – flagged an omission and the paper eventually revised the controversial story after being lampooned on social media over the gaffe.

The update included the significant detail that several friends of the alleged victim said she did not recall the purported sexual assault. The newspaper also stated for the first time that the alleged victim refused to be interviewed, and has made no other comment about the episode.

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Trump was asked about whether anyone from The Times should be “fired” over the controversy. He called it a “fair” question but didn’t directly give an answer.

“I think The New York Times made another terrible mistake,” Trump said. “It’s a shame that a thing like that could happen… They used to have a thing called fact-checking. They don’t have fact-checking anymore.”

Fox News’ Brian Flood and Gregg Re contributed to this report.

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With New Mexico rally, Trump seeks to flip state won by Clinton in 2016

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With New Mexico rally, Trump seeks to flip state won by Clinton in 2016

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will hold one of his signature rallies on Monday night in New Mexico, a longtime Democratic stronghold his campaign has added to the list of states it hopes to win in the November 2020 election.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

The last time New Mexico supported a Republican in a presidential race was 2004. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton beat Trump there by 8 percentage points three years ago.

Trump’s campaign sees an opening in the state with Latinos, who it believes will swing his way despite tough immigration policies, including a crackdown on migrants from Central America and a push to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Democrats have criticized those efforts. But a Trump campaign aide said the Republican president could win over Latinos who came to the United States legally and believe others should, too.

“Big crowd expected in New Mexico tonight, where we will WIN. Your Border Wall is getting stronger each and every day — see you in a few hours!” Trump tweeted ahead of his trip.

The campaign also views Trump’s support for the fossil fuel industry as a plus in the state, which is rich in oil and natural gas, said the campaign aide, who declined to be named. Trump is likely to discuss energy on Monday night.

Trump won the White House in 2016 with electoral votes from traditional Republican-leaning states and some surprise Democratic-leaning ones.

The Trump campaign says it wants New Mexico’s five electoral votes to augment the 306 electoral votes the president received in his first election, not create a separate path for victory. A candidate must get 270 electoral votes nationally to win.

Democrats, who did well in New Mexico during the 2018 mid-term elections, are skeptical.

“Last cycle, Democrats crushed Republicans in New Mexico because voters are fed up with President Trump’s toxic healthcare agenda and broken promises,” said David Bergstein, a communications director for the Democratic National Committee focused on battleground states.

“We take nothing for granted, but this GOP strategy looks like they’re concerned about a realistic pathway to 270 electoral votes,” he added.

Trump won electoral-vote-rich swing states such as Ohio and Florida in 2016, while also picking up Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania from Democrats.

The campaign says it is eyeing more pickups in 2020, including Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Nevada.

Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown

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California adds Iowa to ‘travel ban’ over refusal to fund gender transitions

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California adds Iowa to 'travel ban' over refusal to fund gender transitions

California announced Monday that it has added Iowa to the list of states on its ever-expanding “travel ban” list because of that state’s new prohibition against funding gender-transition surgeries under Medicaid.

The announcement by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra means that as of Oct. 4, California will no longer offer taxpayer-funded trips to Iowa for any public employee or student at a state-run university.

Becerra’s authority came from a 2016 California law signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown that bars state-funded travel to other states that undercut LGBT rights. The list already included Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

WATCH: LIBERAL POLICIES BLAMED FOR WORSENING CALIFORNIA’S HOMELESSNESS CRISIS

Conservatives have called the law ineffective, inconveniencing, possibly unconstitutional and hypocritical. The state’s sports teams have turned to private funding to get around the restrictions, according to The Los Angeles Times.

A homeless woman smokes as she waits for city crews to clean the area near Los Angeles City Hall Monday, July 1, 2019. California is overrun with homeless individuals. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

A homeless woman smokes as she waits for city crews to clean the area near Los Angeles City Hall Monday, July 1, 2019. California is overrun with homeless individuals. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

“The Iowa Legislature has reversed course on what was settled law under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, repealing protections for those seeking gender-affirming health care,” Becerra said in a statement. “California has taken an unambiguous stand against discrimination and government actions that would enable it.”

The brouhaha began after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in March that taxpayers could be forced to pay for gender reassignment surgery. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law effectively overriding that ruling two months later.

At the federal level, the Trump administration has disputed the idea that sex-based discrimination prohibitions under law include protections for gender identity. The Health and Human Services Department, in May, angered progressive advocates with rules that both allowed doctors not to perform certain operations and stated that “gender identity” was not protected under sex discrimination law in health care.

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Fox News’ Sam Dorman contributed to this report.

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