Stay up to Date
Get our weekly insiders guide to political and policy news (Saturdays)
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and President Donald Trump have very different memories of their discussion at the White House.
President Donald Trump launched his re-election bid Tuesday and the chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego, Tony Krvaric, issued a statement saying San Diego Republicans stood with his “vision for America.”
As if right on cue, that same day, San Diego’s most prominent Republican, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, literally stood with the president.
Faulconer said the two spoke about trade and the border sewage crisis. Faulconer has long opposed Trump and denounced, to varying degrees, a number of the president’s most controversial statements. So we asked Faulconer’s staff if he had changed and now stood with the president’s vision for America.
No, he hasn’t changed, his spokesman said.
“It’s the mayor’s job to advocate for San Diego, and being invited to have an audience with the president to directly ask for federal action on the Tijuana River Valley is a meeting he was not going to pass up,” said Craig Gustafson, the director of communications for the mayor, in a written statement. Gustafson said that the president had heard Faulconer was meeting with White House staff about the USMCA trade agreement and invited him to visit the Oval Office.
That is not how Trump remembers their meeting.
Wednesday night, the president spoke via phone with Sean Hannity during his Fox News show. They were talking about a border wall.
“We just finished San Diego, as you know, San Diego, in California. They’re so happy. The mayor was just up in my office, great guy. He came up to thank me for having done the wall because it’s made such a difference. He said, it’s like day and night. He said people were flowing across and now nobody can come in,” Trump said.
That’s a different takeaway from their discussion. We turned back to Faulconer for a response.
Did the mayor really thank the president for doing the wall?
“That’s not what Mayor Faulconer said. We all know that the President uses his own terminology. But that wasn’t the focus of their conversation,” Gustafson wrote. “The president as an aside asked Mayor Faulconer what he thought about the border, and the Mayor’s response is that we welcome federal investment in our land ports of entry. We’re the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere, and federal dollars help us make it easier to trade, cross legally and commute across the border.”
And then Gustafson went further to clarify.
“Mayor Faulconer does not support a wall from sea to shining sea. Let’s invest instead on stopping sewage from the Tijuana River Valley,” he wrote.
To be clear, there was time when people could travel relatively freely between Baja California and San Diego. Barriers started to arise in the 1920s and, after large throngs of people crossed in the 1980s, major fencing was erected. Under President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton, San Diego’s border received major fortification. In conjunction with Operation Gatekeeper in 1994, the new fencing had a major impact on border crossings. The Union-Tribune offered a nice history here.
In short, San Diego’s border sector has been held up for some time as a model of fortification.
It was not clear whether, when Trump began talking about a wall, he felt San Diego’s section qualified. On the one hand, it wasn’t necessarily a big, beautiful wall. It was a bunch of different fences. And Trump then requested several prototypes of a different, more wall-like 30-foot wall. On the other hand, San Diego’s experience shutting down illegal crossings and its barriers were held up as examples of walls working.
So it has been kind of confusing whether what San Diego already has is an adequate wall that fits the president’s vision, or whether San Diego still needs a wall.
There were some parts of the wall or existing fencing that weren’t done and a dozen or so miles, in rugged areas, that don’t have barriers. Many sections of old fencing are being replaced by a taller wall comprised of see-through bollards. On Tuesday, the White House posted pictures of that with “We are building the wall!” on Twitter.
We are building the wall!
Last week, construction began on 15 miles of new border wall system to replace old, outdated barriers and help cut off illegal border crossing, drug trafficking, and human smuggling in the San Diego and El Centro Sectors. pic.twitter.com/9BprMw0q0l
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 18, 2019
So, that’s the wall.
And yet, it’s not. As recently as last month the president wanted more spikes.
The president’s takes on the wall and on Mexico are some but not all of the reason San Diego Republican elected leaders have had a hard time embracing him. Trump remains unpopular here, and Democrats have exploited even tangential connections to him to torpedo local Republican campaigns. It has led to two major defections from the party – Assemblyman Brian Maienschein became a Democrat, and Republican San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey left the party to become an independent.
Faulconer has stayed loyal to the Republican Party, though. He spoke at a conference of reformist GOP leaders recently and outlined his perspective.
“The California Republican Party must not be a carbon copy of the national GOP,” he said. “Each state is a unique laboratory of democracy, and California Republicans need to create a party tailored to the people of California.”
Regardless, the president said the mayor thanked him for “doing the wall.” The mayor said that didn’t happen.