Trump to order Mexican wall
President Donald Trump has used his first days in office issuing a volley of executive orders rolling back Obama administration policies. The FT's Washington bureau chief Demetri Sevastopulo talks to news editor Peter Spiegel about Trump's plans to start construction of his promised Mexican border wall.
Filmed by Rod Fitzgerald. Produced by Daniel Garrahan.
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DONALD TRUMP: Thank you.
PETER SPIEGEL: President Donald Trump has used the first days in office issuing a volley of executive orders rolling back Obama administration policy. The latest is expected to be directing the US government funds to start construction on his promised Mexican border wall, and measures that would make it harder for refugees from Syria and immigrants from other Middle Eastern countries travelling to the US.
Joining me down the line from the US capital is our Washington bureau chief Demetri Sevastopulo. Demetri, let me start with this list of executive orders that have come out. In many cases he has gone against party orthodoxy. I mean, his first one was withdrawing from a big trans-Pacific trade deal. Now, that free trade has been a Republican stalwart for a long time. We've got issues on immigration now, where, although the party has been mixed, the pro-business end of the party has been pro-immigration.
How's it going down with the party establishment, which, frankly, he'd been warring with during the campaign to begin with?
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: Well, I think on the one hand, he's been talking about all of these things, withdrawing from TPP, renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, and things like that, for well over a year. So I don't think anyone is surprised that it's actually coming and that he was going to do-- or use his first week in office to push ahead with some of his signature issues.
Yes, on free trade, he's taking the Republican Party down a new path. On the other hand, the Republican Party has, for the time being, decided that they are now more powerful as a party across the country than they've been since the 1920s. They control the Senate, the House, the White House, they have a huge number of governorships, and they control a large number of state legislators. So for the time being the Republicans have got a kind of euphoria, and I think the Republican leadership in Congress is willing to look past a few things that they may not like in order to accomplish some of the other things that they do want to do.
And so Trump, for the time being, is being given a pretty wide berth and he's using this week to push ahead with a lot of the things that he's been talking about for a long time.
PETER SPIEGEL: One of the surprising things we've seen thus far is he's used executive orders as a way to get this stuff done. Now, look, this is a system where in theory, there are co-equal branch of the government. For instance, to build a Mexican wall, you need appropriations from Congress. How has he been able to do this through just executive orders?
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: Well, in some cases, what he's doing this week with executive orders is symbolic. So for example, on TPP, the US Congress never ratified TPP, so all he had to do was say I'm not going to press ahead and try and ratify it, therefore the US is not going to be part of it. So that was done and dusted, very simple.
On the wall, what he's done is he's telling the federal government, you have money in your piggy bank already that's been appropriated, that Congress has given you. Instead of using it for something else, I want you to use it to start building the wall. Eventually he'll have to go back to Congress and say, OK I've built 700 metres of wall somewhere in Arizona. Now I need something for the other 2,000 metres across the border. So he can do certain things with executive orders, but ultimately, for many of the things he wants to do, he's going to have to get Congress involved.
PETER SPIEGEL: Let me just wrap up the mood of the place right now, there on 13th and K Street. We've had, as you say, a series of executive orders that, all right, maybe not surprising people in terms of the policies, but certainly the quickness and the rapidity he's done it he has taken some by surprise.
But also we've had a bit of, shall we say, wackiness, in which he has obsessed about the fact that he didn't win the majority, or maybe he said he did win a majority of popular vote, there was fraud, he's ordered a new investigation into voter fraud. We've had this rather bizarre weekend where he was fighting with the press over how many people showed up at his inauguration. What's the mood in that town right now, with Trump finally arriving and acting, frankly, like the way he did during the campaign?
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: People are shocked. I mean, a lot of people assumed that once he actually was inaugurated that he would be more secure in his own skin, that he wouldn't be rehashing some of the old battles he brought up during the campaign, and frankly, saying things that are painfully not true. I mean, he forced his press secretary to go out and speak to the press on a Saturday, which is quite a rare thing to do, and tell them that it was just untrue that Trump's inauguration crowds were smaller than Obama's. Now anyone who looks at the photographs comparing 2009 and 2017 can see that there's no comparison. Obama had way more.
Trump, than during the week, started talking about huge amounts of voter fraud. So when people say Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes, Trump pushes back and says, well, she wouldn't have done if it wasn't for all those illegals who voted for her. There is no evidence that there is massive voter fraud, and yesterday people said, well, hold on a second, if you really believe that, why aren't you calling for a huge investigation? Because this is an indictment of American democracy. And lo and behold, this morning he tweeted out that he was going to call for an investigation. But there isn't a thread of credible evidence that there's any kind of wide-scale fraud taking place in this election whatsoever.
So people are kind of amazed that he's continuing with this psychodrama. And I think it raises the question that foreign leaders, when they look at Trump and they try and work out what he's saying to them, how should they interpret what he's saying? Is it something that he believes is true, even if it isn't true? Is he playing games for negotiating purposes? And frankly, we don't know yet. We need a lot more time to analyse him, but it's certainly been a fascinating first week.