President Donald Trump is finally expected to go to California.
The president, who has rarely crossed the Mississippi River during his first 13 months in office, is scheduled to visit San Diego in mid-March to see prototypes for a potential border wall and learn more about the construction, according to administration officials involved in the planning.
He will also visit Los Angeles to attend a Republican National Committee fundraiser, these people said, one of a number of fundraisers he is expected to headline in the next two months.
The president’s trip to California has been floated several times and later scuttled. Trump prefers to sleep in his own bed at night, and some of his aides have been leery of a trip to the border because of likely protests amid debate over the president’s support for new immigration limits.
Trump has criticized California officials in recent days, threatening to pull immigration enforcement out of the country’s largest state in retribution for what he deemed a “lousy management job.” He has also complained about “sanctuary cities” in California, where local municipalities do not cooperate with federal law enforcement officials.
Trump is not exactly a favorite person in California – he lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 4 million votes. But Trump is close to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. And any border wall – his signature campaign promise – would run through California.
Eight border wall prototypes are on display in a dusty lot near the border east of San Diego. The 30-foot-tall barriers use varying configurations of steel, concrete – even spikes – to create ramparts far more formidable than almost anything currently in place along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Tests conducted by the Department of Homeland Security have found the prototypes are nearly impossible to climb or break through.
Trump has dropped his insistence that the new structure be a wall, rather than a fence, as U.S. border agents prefer something that allows them to see through into Mexican territory. Trump said last year that an completely opaque structure would leave agents at risk of being struck by sacks of drugs hurled into the United States.
“As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them – they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over,” Trump told reporters last year. “As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall. But we have some incredible designs.”
There has been some speculation Trump could try to use the occasion of a visit to the border wall showcase to stage a reality-TV-style selection of the winning prototype. But analysts say the Department of Homeland Security is likely to select several of the prototypes, because no single model may be perfectly suited to a border that spans mountains, deserts, riverbanks and urban neighborhoods.
The Trump administration is seeking $18 billion for border wall construction over the next 10 years, an amount that would pay for roughly 300 miles of new barriers where none currently exist and allow the government to replace another 400 miles of older “legacy” fencing.
The state of California has joined several environmental and advocacy groups in lawsuits challenging DHS’s plans to fast-track its construction plans. They are seeking to compel the administration to follow standard environmental review procedures, while the government argues it has the authority to bypass them, as a matter of national security.
The suits are under review by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump characterized during his campaign as “a Mexican” and therefore biased against him. Curiel, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents, is expected to announce a decision in the coming days.
It would be Trump’s first visit to the border with Mexico as president, and he has consistently spoken of the area as a dangerous, lawless place. In reality, crime rates in several U.S. border cities, including San Diego, are among the lowest in the country.