A border fence in Brownsville. (Julia Reihs / KUT)
Were it not for the Kavanaugh confirmation spectacle, there may have been a very different fight on Capitol Hill over the last few weeks – and Texas would have been at the center of it. We’re talking about President Donald Trump’s promise to build a southern border wall.
Erica Werner, a congressional reporter for the Washington Post, says the issue got sidelined because of the Kavanaugh confirmation, which could turn out to be good for Republicans, who won’t have to debate the divisive issue until after the November election.
Werner says the border wall issue resurfaced during a speech by House Speaker Paul Ryan at the National Press Club, Monday. She says during the question-and-answer session, Ryan restated his commitment to the wall, but in a sharper tone than he had used previously.
“That there will be a fight after the midterms over funding the wall,” Werner says about Ryan’s statement.
Congress has a Dec. 7 deadline to pass a budget for the Department of Homeland Security, and Werner says Trump could potentially shut down that department and others if the budget doesn’t include the wall funding for which he has asked.
But reports over the last few weeks indicate that parts of the wall have already gone up along the border, including in Texas. Werner says Ryan and other Republicans have tried to convince Trump of this in the hopes that it would encourage him to tone down his rhetoric.
“They’ve even taken pictures of the wall going up to show him,” Werner says.
But Werner says regardless of the reality on the ground, Trump is determined to stick to what he promised during his presidential campaign, which was to not only build the wall but to have Mexico pay for it. The Senate’s spending bill would allot $1.6 billion to the Department for Homeland Security for a limited stretch of fencing, but Trump had asked for $5 billion.
“He wants a bigger down payment, a bigger number that he can tout,” Werner says.
But the debate over the wall is now postponed until after the midterms, which could be politically advantageous for Republicans because voters won’t necessarily be thinking about the wall when they cast their ballots. Werner says the wall would have been debated before a Sept. 30 deadline, but the issue got pushed of because Capitol Hill was consumed by the confirmation of Kavanaugh.
“For that reason, the spending fight and the wall issue kind of went under the radar and there was no blow up over that,” Werner says.
For Ryan’s part, Werner says he didn’t suggest he had a strategy for coming to an agreement over the wall when the issue inevitably comes to the fore in November..
“There has never been a clear strategy laid out by anyone publicly and I don’t know that it exists about how to get to that $5 billion number,” Werner says.
She says Republicans need Democratic votes in the Senate order to get that funding, and as of now, Democrats are unlikely to support it.
Beyond that, Trump’s vision for a continuous wall along the border isn’t physically possible because of terrain. Prominent Republicans like John Cornyn of Texas have acknowledged this, but Werner says the rhetoric from Trump and some of his more conservative supporters in Congress still promote the idea.
“That’s just not the reality, that’s not going to happen, and even Trump has occasionally used words like ‘fences’ to describe what he wants,” Werner says.
Written by Caroline Covington.