Posts tagged with "Donald Trump":

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Trump’s offshore drilling plan—and his new Secretary of the Interior—are treading water

President Donald Trump’s plan to open much of the American continental shelf to oil exploration has been put on hold after a federal court recently ruled in favor of maintaining existing restrictions against drilling for oil off of the Alaska and Virginia coasts. In March, The New York Times reported that a federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Alaska ruled against the president’s efforts to revoke an Obama-era executive order that withdrew 120 million acres of Arctic Ocean and about 3.8 million acres of Atlantic Ocean areas from oil exploration initiatives. The judge stated that Trump’s efforts to revoke the drilling ban are “unlawful” and “exceeded the president’s authority,” according to the report, and that the ban will “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.” In response to the ruling, Department of Interior (DOI) officials have more or less scrapped plans that could have opened up the entirety of America’s coastline to increased oil exploration initiatives, The New York Times reported this week. Molly Block, a spokesperson for the Interior Department, told The Times, “Given the recent court decision, the [DOI] is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the President.” The ruling could be appealed to the Ninth District Circuit Court and could potentially reach the United States Supreme Court, but not for several years. It is unclear how either President’s actions will be interpreted by the court, as both Obama’s efforts to protect these areas and Trump’s push to repeal those protections are considered to have taken place according to what is considered, at best, shaky legal precedent. It is expected that the legal setback for President Trump could also precipitate further legal action from environmental groups who seek to turn back a controversial 2017 plan that shrunk the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. The ruling comes as a new Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, takes the helm of the department. Bernhardt was recently confirmed to his position after fierce opposition from Democrats amid accusations of ethics violations. Though Bernhardt took office only two weeks ago, several inquiries into the secretary’s connections to previous employers have taken shape. The DOI Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently confirmed active investigations into potential ethics violations by six senior DOI officials.
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Elizabeth Warren unveils plan to reconnect Americans with public lands

Just in time for Earth Day, Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren has unveiled an ambitious plan that aims to reconnect the American people with the nation’s public lands. The plan, published in a Medium post by the Massachusetts senator, takes aim at the starkly pro-industry policies supported by President Donald Trump by proposing to, among other efforts, ban new fossil fuel exploration on public lands, make admission to every National Park free, and restore the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments that President Trump shrank upon taking office in 2017. Describing her intention to push back against the current administration’s policies, Warren said, “As president, I will use my authorities under the Antiquities Act to restore protections to both [Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears] and any other national monuments targeted by this administration,’’ adding that she would also “fully fund our public land management agencies and eliminate the infrastructure and maintenance backlog on our public lands in my first term.” According to the National Parks Service, America’s National Parks currently suffer from an $11 billion maintenance backlog that has snarled operations across the parks system. Warren plans to address this deferred maintenance by creating a new 10,000 member Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that would be tasked with carrying out the needed repairs. The original CCC was created as a part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal following the Great Depression, and although workers were segregated by race, the program ultimately put over 3 million unemployed and unmarried young men to work improving federally-held lands during its nine-year lifespan. In a nod to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, Warren also proposes to increase the amount of renewable energy produced on public lands with the goal of providing 10 percent of the U.S.'s overall electricity generation through this initiative. Warren’s plan would also work to increase access to the roughly 10 million acres of public lands spread out across western states that are currently inaccessible due to convoluted ownership and access issues. The plan, Warren hopes, will boost America’s booming “outdoor economy,” which, according to the senator, “accounts for $887 billion in consumer spending each year and creates 7.6 million sustainable jobs that can’t be exported overseas.”
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President Trump threatens to cancel California’s high-speed rail funding

Why did California Governor Gavin Newsom stir up the proverbial hornets' nest with his vague and confusing comments regarding the state’s high-speed rail (HSR) plans last week? That’s become the $920 million question many are asking themselves now as President Donald Trump has threatened to—perhaps illegally—cancel a sizable grant already allocated to the project following days of confusing debate over the future of the high-speed line. During a “state of the state” speech last week, Newsom provided unclear backing for completing the full project as approved by California voters in 2008 when they passed Proposition 1A, a ballot measure that allocated $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds for the planning and construction of an 800-mile high-speed rail system connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles. During his speech, Newsom said:
The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield. I know that some critics will say this is a ‘train to nowhere.’ But that’s wrong and offensive. The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.
The comments were widely interpreted as a death knell for the L.A. and San Francisco spurs of the line, a characterization the governor disputed in the aftermath of the speech. Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click, speaking to the press, offered the following clarification: “The state will continue undertaking the broader project—completing the bookend projects and finishing the environmental review for the [San Francisco] to L.A. leg—that would allow the project to continue seeking other funding streams." But by that point, the damage had been done. Speaking via Twitter, President Trump said, “California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” adding, “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!" It only gets worse from there. The Los Angeles Times reported that an additional $2.5 billion in additional federal grant funding has been thrown into question as Trump Administration officials are “actively exploring every legal option” for taking the money back in light of slow progress as well as the governor’s statements. The funds are currently being put to use building the 119-mile route that Newsom has pledged to finish. The Times reported further that Ronald Batory, the chief of the Federal Railroad Administration who issued the grants to California in 2009 and 2010, penned a legal analysis of the situation to California High-Speed Rail Authority chief executive Brian Kelly stating that California “has materially failed to comply with the terms of the [grant] agreement and has failed to make reasonable progress on the project.” Batory further alleged that California had failed to deliver $100 million in matching funds for the project that were due in late 2018. Batory’s missive also referenced Newsom’s speech directly, saying that the governor has instigated a “significant retreat from the state’s initial vision and commitment.” Experts disagree whether the federal government can legally take back money that has already been allocated or spent, but that has not stopped President Trump from continuing his attacks on the state’s rail plan this week. Either way, the long-held and hard-fought vision of California high-speed rail has been thrown into doubt. The uncertain news has reverberated across the state, including in San Francisco, where the structurally damaged Salesforce Transit Center sits vacant, with an entire subterranean level laying in wait for a high-speed rail line that now might never come.
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Is the Trump administration holding the Gateway tunnel hostage for political reasons?

It’s no secret that the Trump administration has been much more hostile to the Amtrak Gateway Project than its predecessor. President Obama's team had hashed out a 50/50 funding agreement between the federal government and New York and New Jersey officials to replace the aging tunnel under the Hudson River, but the Trump administration quickly moved to quash the deal last year. According to NBC New York, the nonprofit National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is now suing the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) over concerns that the administration has unduly canceled the project. A federal Environmental Impact Statement for the project was supposed to have been completed by March 30, 2018, but the DOT has failed to produce any materials or answer the Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) filed by the NRDC in September. The suit alleges that progress on the Gateway tunnel is being stymied so that the administration might use it as a bargaining chip to help grease construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall. The 108-year-old, two-track rail tube that runs between New Jersey and New York services approximately 200,000 Amtrak passengers daily but was severely damaged by saltwater during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. With the looming possibility that one of the tunnels would fail (which Amtrak expects would reduce traffic by up to 75 percent), both New York and New Jersey had upped their commitments to the project to $5 billion out of the required $12.7 billion. The Obama administration’s pledge to fund half of the project would have largely been doled out in loans to the two states, a common method of funding infrastructure.

The alleged quashing of the environmental review isn’t the first time the current administration has been accused of playing hardball with the project to achieve its political aims. In March of last year, President Trump was reportedly meeting with congressional Republicans to kill the project in retaliation against Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Democratic leaders in the affected states. The NRDC suit alleges that USDOT has been intentionally delaying any progress on the project and has gone so far to refer to the project under the codename “mushroom” to thwart FOIA requests. USDOT has denied impeding the Gateway Project for political reasons or using a code word to obfuscate its documentation and has chalked up the delay to what it calls an untenable funding model. The agency also issued the following statement: “It is false to say that DOT is blocking the Hudson Tunnels project, when in fact the project as it stands is actually ineligible to proceed.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had scheduled a sit down with president Trump at the White House over the state of the project in November of last year, as well as several high-profile, live-streamed tours of the crumbling tunnels. It appears that, for the time being, those overtures were for naught. Lending fuel to the NRDC's allegations is the recent decision by the Trump administration to demand the return of $2.5 billion in transportation grants given to California for their high-speed rail project, along with the possible cancelation of another $968 million grant. California's Governor Gavin Newsom has argued that the move is purely political and a result of the state's decision to sue the administration over its recent state of emergency declaration.
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Trump declares national emergency to force border wall construction

After a record 35-day-long government shutdown over funding for a southern border wall was put on hold for lawmakers to hash out a continued spending bill, it now appears that the Trump administration will declare a national emergency to appropriate funds for the wall. The president is in Washington, D.C., to sign a massive $328 billion bipartisan spending bill that would have only allocated $1.4 billion for the construction of 55 miles of fencing, well short of the $5.7 billion he had previously demanded. As the New York Times and other sources are reporting, the president is expected to sign the bill as well as declare a national emergency. The government was set to shut down again on February 15 if no compromise over the issue had been reached by then. On the Senate floor today, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Trump "is prepared to sign the bill" and that "he will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time." Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Senator McConnell's comments, and added that the president would also take unspecified "other executive action."  The president had been threatening to fund the border wall through alternative means for months, but any plan to do so could face a legal challenge from Democratic lawmakers and nonprofit groups, as well as the possibility that the Senate would rescind the declaration via a two-thirds majority vote. A national emergency would allow the Trump administration to pull funds from other accounts, such as disaster relief spending (including reconstruction money designated for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria), and the military budget. Update: On February 15, president Trump officially declared a national emergency and will direct $8 billion towards the construction and repair of 234 miles of wall along the U.S.'s southern border. That figure includes the previously allocated $1.375 billion, as well as $3.6 billion diverted from military projects, $2.5 billion from the Pentagon's drug prevention program, and $600 million claimed from the drug forfeiture program.
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FEMA's flood insurance program continues through shutdown after lobbying by real estate industry

The night before President Donald Trump announced the federal government shutdown, he signed into law a stopgap bill that would reauthorize FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). "Adversarial journalism" outlet The Intercept reported on the bill and its potential connections to the nation's real estate interests.  Enacted in 1968, the NFIP was established in order to protect homes built on federally designated floodplains. Getting insurance through the program is a prerequisite for banks in providing mortgages to individuals buying relevant property. When FEMA announced on December 26 that it could not continue work, enter into contracts, or spend federal dollars because of the shutdown, many real estate interest groups got upset about the NFIP interruption. The Intercept reported the president and Congress essentially forced FEMA to carry on issuing certifications after these parties cried out over the estimated 40,000 coastal home closings that would be lost per month without the service. The National Association of Realtors, among others, made it clear that shuttering this program during the shutdown would be a detrimental loss to the real estate business in the U.S.
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Architects crowdfund money for border fence prototype around Mar-a-Lago

Following an unsuccessful attempt at floating a line of Pink Floyd-style golden pigs in front of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, architecture studio New World Design has turned its attention to a new piece of protest art. The group is now crowdfunding on GoFundMe to build a 30-foot-tall, golden wall “prototype” outside of the president’s Mar-a-Lago compound and golf course in Florida. As the government shutdown over $5.7 billion in southern border wall funding has dragged on to become the longest shutdown in history, New World Design is looking to raise $570 million for U.S.-Mexico Border Wall: A Study in Absurdity. The project is a tongue-in-cheek response to the viral, but unsuccessful, campaign to crowdfund the border wall. The 30-foot-tall, ornamented picket fence would be plated in gold and “lethally” electrified. Six new coal-fired power plants across the U.S.-Mexico border would power the barrier. The group has proposed first installing it at Mar-a-Lago as a “legitimate constructibility test,” a callback to the eight border wall prototypes built and tested in Otay Mesa, California. This project is much less tangible than Flying Pigs on Parade: A Chicago River Folly, and the group expects that it won’t hit its sky-high goal; any of the money raised will instead be donated to the International Refugee Assistance Program.
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The Senate starts its search for a new Architect of the Capitol

Know any architects looking for an extremely high-profile government job? Okay, so maybe not everyone wants to work for the federal government right now (thanks, 31-day government shutdown). Nevertheless, the search for a new Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is officially underway, reports Roll Call. Anyone who seeks to fill the position will be responsible for overseeing a multitude of preservation and maintenance projects on the Capitol’s campus. A few of those include the $752 million renewal of the Cannon House Office Building, the oldest structure on site, as well as updates to the Beaux Arts–style Russell Senate Office Building, also built over a century ago. The AOC will also be in charge of rehabilitating the Senate Underground Garage and Senate Park, both under construction through 2020, as well as overseeing the continued facade work on the Capitol Building itself. Not only that, he or she will manage all upgrades and maintenance to the Capitol Visitor Center, the Supreme Court Building, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Botanic Garden, and the Capitol Grounds. That’s 18.4 million square feet of federal facilities including 190 structures and 580 acres of landscape sprawled across Capitol Hill. Did we mention it’s full-time? The position is a 10-year term, currently held by Stephen T. Ayers. Nominated in 2010 by President Obama, Ayers oversaw the three-year, $59.5 million restoration of the Capitol Dome, which wrapped up in 2016. Ayers announced his retirement in late November and is leaving behind over $1 billion of deferred maintenance work and a $733 million budget for the new AOC to takeover.  The hunt for a new leader is being spearheaded by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, a 14-person group that includes the Speaker of the House, the President pro tempore, the majority and minority leaders from both chambers, the chairs and ranking members of the House Administration and Senate Rules Committees, as well as the Appropriations Committee members from both chambers. The group is working with an executive search firm to find three candidates to recommend to President Trump. Once the president makes his pick, the Senate must officially confirm his or her appointment. The confirmed nominee will become the 12th Architect of the Capitol in U.S. history. Several past officeholders were actually not registered architects, which still isn’t a requirement to fill the position.
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All eight border wall prototypes fail basic penetrability test

As the Trump administration prepares to potentially declare a national emergency to jumpstart construction of a wall along the U.S.’s southern border—as well as possibly using storm aid funds to do so—the viability of the wall itself has come under fire. In a photo obtained by NBC News, one of the steel bollard border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa, California, was easily breached using an off-the-shelf saw. The eight border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa (directly across from Tijuana in Mexico) were assembled in early 2017 after an executive order directed the Department of Homeland Security to design and build a southern border wall. Four concrete wall segment mockups, and four from mixed materials, were assembled in the desert. The 30-foot-tall prototypes were graded on their aesthetic qualities in August 2018, but testing in late 2017 has revealed that all eight may be easy to penetrate. On “Pogo Row”, a testing area near the California-Mexico border, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents were instructed to try to breach the eight border wall segments—and eventually broke through all eight. Using saws and other hand tools, teams were able to cause holes “larger than 12-inches in diameter or square,” the DHS standard definition of breaching. According to a redacted version of the CBP report obtained through a freedom of information request from the San Diego-based KPBS, replicas of each prototype’s first ten feet were tested for breaching. One (redacted) technique proved so destructive during the first test that further experimenting was postponed, as officials feared it would destabilize the structural integrity of the other models before they could be thoroughly assessed. No testing on how well the walls were able to resist tunneling appears to have been conducted, despite that being a major design criterion in the Request for Proposal. Additionally, none of the eight designs met the requirements for adaptability across the thousands of miles of the border’s rugged, varied terrain. For its part, the DHS has argued that no wall is impenetrable and that by slowing migrants trying to breach it, Border Patrol agents are given time to respond. DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman told NBC that the prototypes were only meant to inform the final design moving forward. When asked about the photo obtained by NBC yesterday, President Trump responded that, “that’s a wall designed by previous administrations.” While previous administrations have used steel bollards at the border, the prototypes tested were built by the Trump administration.
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The government shutdown is hurting construction, trade, and manufacturers

Now in its third week, the partial government shutdown is proving extremely tough for not only direct federal employees but also outside contractors who work with and rely on funding from U.S. agencies. In New York alone, that means big-name organizations like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and smaller businesses helping with capital construction efforts throughout the five boroughs. It’s estimated that over 50,000 federal contract employees in the New York metropolitan area are out of work and pay with no end in sight. While some organizations aren't running at all, others are still forcing people to work but without hope of immediate reimbursement. For example, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Sunday the MTA could lose up to $150 million each month in federal funds as long the shutdown remains. This would halt major track repair work still ongoing after Hurricane Sandy and further construction on the Second Avenue Subway, according to the New York Post. This would happen because the General Fund, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Fiscal Service, is currently compromised, meaning companies working on state and city projects sponsored through the Federal Transit Administration’s capital investment grants program will see a slow-down in reimbursement. New York will be forced to pay out-of-pocket for the above subway improvements and work on the Select Bus Service lines, among other things. Because most public building and infrastructure construction projects in New York City are managed and funded by local government agencies, work will carry on. But that doesn’t mean it will all run as smoothly as expected. As weeks pass on, it will likely become increasingly difficult to import the necessary building materials selected for these construction projects. This is not only because of President Trump’s trade war but because of international shipping delays and a slow-down in safety checks through other agencies. The Federal Maritime Commission is closed and cannot smoothly regulate cargo clearance or port activity. In addition, hazardous materials being imported into the United States might be held up as all port investigators within the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have been furloughed. What’s more, the Commerce Department can’t process requests from manufacturing companies who want an exemption from Trump’s metal tariffs. These are all big issues for U.S.-based manufacturers that can’t plan for the year ahead if they don’t have an accurate estimate of how much important imported materials will cost them and how long those products will take to reach them. Trump plans to make a televised, prime-time address tonight to discuss what he calls a humanitarian crisis at the U.S. Southern border. It’s unclear whether he’ll give an actual timeline for getting the government up and running again, though he’s repeatedly said he won’t cancel the shutdown until Congress gives him the full $5.6 billion needed to build his border wall. Until then, contractors in every city and state will have to make do with potential delays and money coming from their own bank accounts.
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United States withdraws from UNESCO (again)

As of January 1, 2019, the United States has officially withdrawn from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), one of the world’s best-known global cultural heritage and preservation organizations. The withdrawal was first announced in October 2017 after UNESCO recognized the old city of Hebron in the West Bank as a Palestinian World Heritage Site amid fierce resistance from the United States and Israel. The old city of Hebron is home to, among other relics and cultural sites, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a sacred religious site known as the Cave of Machpelah to Jews and as the Sanctuary of Abraham to Muslims. At the time, the United States and Israel complained that the UN was engaging in “anti-Israeli bias” stemming from the recognition of Palestine as a member state of the UN in 2011. Previously, the UN had criticized Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, according to Al Jazeera. When the UN elevated Palestine to membership status in 2011–during the Obama administration—the United States stopped paying its membership dues to UNESCO in protest. By 2017 the past-due fees had grown to $570 million, The Washington Post reported, and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided to initiate the process of formal withdrawal from the organization. As of 2019, the outstanding balance due to UNESCO has risen above $600 million. Following the withdrawal, Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, said, “At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations leading these issues.” The current episode marks the second time the United States has left UNESCO, following President Ronald Reagan’s withdrawal from the group in 1984 in an effort to thwart the recognition of Soviet historical sites. The United States rejoined the group in 2002 under President George W. Bush following the attacks of 9/11 amid a push to boost international solidarity by the U.S. The United States now hopes it can participate as an “observer state” on “non-politicized issues,” including the protection of World Heritage sites. The body is due to take up this new role for the United States when it next meets in April 2019.
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Government shutdown over border wall could drag on well into the new year

The United States is entering the thirteenth day of a partial government shutdown after Congress failed to reach an agreement before the December 21st deadline, with President Trump promising to veto any bill that did not include $5 billion for a border wall. On Wednesday, January 2, Trump shot down a $2.5 billion compromise bill proposed by his own vice president Mike Pence, as well as a compromise suggested by Senate Republicans that would couple border wall funding with DACA legislation offering deportation relief and work visas to young undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children. These rejections follow last week's failure to reach an agreement in Congress to stop the shutdown, with House Republicans shooting down a Democratic attempt to fund the government in the short term. This leaves nine federal agencies shuttered, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, alongside the Departments of Agriculture, Justice, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, and State. FEMA announced it would be unable to process flood insurance policies, thus affecting home sales, while many workers, including Forest Service firefighters, TSA employees, air traffic controllers, and Customs and Border Protection agents have to report for work without being paid. The effect is also being felt in the country's national parks, which have been kept open without the workers to maintain them, overwhelming trash and sanitation systems. All told, approximately 800,000 federal employees and the people who rely on them are affected, with roughly 350,000 workers furloughed without pay. That border wall funding is at the center of the current shutdown is perhaps not surprising. Trump has long signaled that the border wall is the hill on which he has planted his flag. But a look at the past several years of failed negotiations on the issue between the White House and Congress, even a Republican-led one, shows just how malleable the definition of the border wall is. Even for Trump, whose cheery Christmas message was a promise that the shutdown would continue until the border wall was funded, the form of the wall has shifted from one composed of solid concrete to a transparent one to "artistically designed steel slats." Beyond the rhetoric of the current showdown, however, over the past two years, only 6 percent of the $1.7 billion allocated for the border wall has been expended by the administration. Tests of the latest prototypes also cast doubt on their effectiveness and sheer feasibility, considering the terrain and environments the wall is expected to traverse. On Thursday, when Democrats gain control of the House, they are expected to approve two bills that would halt the shutdown and maintain current levels of border security funding for measures at the U.S.–Mexico border to the tune of $1.3 billion. This funding is only designated for improving existing segments of fencing and enhancing surveillance capacities. Are the existing fences already part of the so-called border wall? What would Trump's envisioned border wall bring to the existing barriers of sheet metal, barbed-wire-topped metal fencing, and concrete columns? But it remains to be seen whether Trump will approve those bills or extend his costly political standoff. For perspective, the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 cost taxpayers millions, with $2.5 billion in back pay given to furloughed workers and $70 million lost from national park revenue alone.