Speed Reads

What's in a name?

John Kelly says the White House abandoned Trump's 'solid concrete wall' idea 'early on'

About a quarter of the federal government is shut down indefinitely because President Trump is demanding $5 billion for a border wall, Democrats are countering with $1.3 billion for border security, and Congress has the power of the purse. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Sunday, outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly threw a little nuance into the standoff.

"To be honest, it's not a wall," Kelly told the Times in a sort of exit interview Friday. "The president still says 'wall' — oftentimes frankly he'll say 'barrier' or 'fencing,' now he's tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it." Kelly was Trump's first Homeland Security secretary, and when he first asked the border-security "salt-of-the-earth, Joe-Six-Pack folks" in U.S. Customs and Border Protection about Trump's wall, he told the Times, "they said, 'Well we need a physical barrier in certain places, we need technology across the board, and we need more people.'"

Kelly has downplayed Trump's wall idea before, drawing Trump's ire by telling House Democrats and then Fox News last January that the president's views on the wall had "evolved," after being "not fully informed" during the campaign. Trump tweet-responded that "the Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it." He has recently suggested he still means a coast-to-coast barrier, though he's testing out phrases like "artistically designed steel slats."

"Kelly was known to tell aides that he had the 'worst job in the world,' and frequently told people that Mr. Trump was not up to role of president," The New York Times reports, citing two former administration officials. Kelly told the Los Angeles Times that he stayed on the job for 17 months out of a sense of duty. "Military people," he said, "don't walk away."