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Trump sets completion date for border wall

President Donald Trump says he wants the border wall between Mexico and the United States finished by election day 2020.

Posted: Dec 27, 2018 6:37 AM
Updated: Dec 27, 2018 7:00 AM

In President Donald Trump's Christmas Day telling, the drugs are flowing over the border, the Federal Reserve is imperiling the economy and the Democrats are preparing to harass him with oversight requests.

"It's a disgrace, what's happening in our country," Trump fumed, seated behind the Resolute Desk on Tuesday, after decrying Democrats as hypocrites and recalling -- unprompted -- his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

"But other than that," he said, his hands gesturing outward, "I wish everybody a very merry Christmas."

If most Americans were taking a break from their workplace woes on Christmas morning, the President was wallowing in them, even as he worked to project a festive demeanor amid a partial government shutdown and troubling economic news.

Celebrating the holiday at the White House instead of his Palm Beach estate, Trump used a phone call session with American troops to advance his case for a border wall, his isolationist foreign policy views and his insistence that his campaign did not collude with Russia.

Trump acknowledged the standoff with Democrats over funding for his long-promised border wall has no foreseeable end date.

"I can't tell you when the government is going to be open. I can tell you it's not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they would like to call it," he said.

As uniformed servicemen were beamed into the Oval Office via satellite from US bases in Alaska, Bahrain, Guam and Qatar -- but not war zones like Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria -- Trump said he was pleased to see rich nations like Qatar -- "There are many, many ways of pronouncing it," Trump observed of the Gulf nation -- chipping in for regional security efforts.

"It will be nice when we can ask for a lot less money for our military," Trump said, without referring specifically to recent decisions to draw down troops in Syria and Afghanistan. "We're, right now, the policemen of the world and we're paying for it. And we can be the policemen of the world, but other countries have to help us."

And though he expressed confidence in Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who spooked investors on Monday by making public his calls with bank CEOs to check on their liquidity, Trump again faulted the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates too quickly, worrying investors and causing stocks to tumble. He insisted the market was ripe for buyers.

"I think it's a tremendous opportunity to buy," he said. "Really a great opportunity to buy."

Trump has spent the past several days cooped up in the White House, leaving only on Christmas Eve for an evening service at the National Cathedral. Originally planning to spend the holiday at Mar-a-Lago, Trump canceled the trip after the partial government shutdown went into effect.

He's the first president to spend Christmas at the White House in 18 years; the last was Bill Clinton in 2000. George W. Bush spent the holiday at Camp David during his eight years in office, while Barack Obama traveled to his native Hawaii.

"I love the White House, but I wasn't able to be with my family. I thought it would be wrong for me to be with my family, my family is in Florida, Palm Beach, and I just didn't want to go down and be there when other people are hurting," Trump explained on Tuesday -- speaking presumably about his adult children, since first lady Melania Trump returned to the White House on Monday to spend the holiday with him.

He claimed, without evidence, that federal employees on furlough or working without pay understand his demand for a border wall -- and support him in his mission.

"Many of those workers have said to me and communicated, stay out until you get the funding for the wall. These federal workers want the wall," he claimed, though didn't identify who the workers were.

He insisted in lengthy remarks the prolonged shutdown was the fault of Democrats, and repeated his demands a border barrier be funded before the government can reopen. In a sign the deadlock will continue, Trump announced he would travel to Texas in late January to observe part of the wall being built.

But he did not offer any new method of getting Democrats to sign off on funding, beyond saying he was always willing to meet with Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and the presumed incoming House speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Instead, he decried his political opponents as preparing for "presidential harassment" once they gain control of the House in January.

"We know how to handle that," Trump said. "I know how to handle that better than anybody."

Describing the opposing party as hypocrites for what he claimed was onetime support for a border wall, Trump transitioned sharply into a screed on Comey, who he fired early in his term.

"Everybody hated Comey, they thought he did a horrible job. The Democrats hated him. They were calling for his resignation. They were calling for his firing," Trump said. Some Democrats faulted Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. Later, Trump's firing of Comey was viewed by many Democrats as a way to short-circuit the FBI's investigation into Russian election meddling.

"Once I fired him, everybody said, 'Oh, why did you fire him, why did you fire him?'" Trump said, waving his hands in irritation.

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