President Trump’s proposal to fund an extension of the nation’s southern border wall is pitting most Republicans against Democrats in a battle that could end up in a partial government shutdown.
“It does complicate things,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a key appropriator, told the Washington Examiner.
Democrats have pledged to vote against further 2018 government funding legislation if it provides money for the wall, citing a wide range of reasons for opposing the structure, some of them political.
“I’m prepared to do that,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-N.M., when asked if he will block 2018 spending bills that include wall funding.
President Trump and Republicans are insisting the wall money must be part of a long-term spending deal. And for the first time in years, some in the GOP are saying they think the blame would fall on Democrats if a partial shutdown happened.
“We want a border wall and we want enforcement of the law,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. “Make Democrats be the ones who hold up spending bills. See where the chips fall.”
Democrats seem willing to fight hard against the wall, in part because of how closely the wall is associated with the new president. “Build the wall” was Trump’s signature campaign mantra and Democrats are determined to defeat it.
“They have made this the symbol,” Grijalva said. “He made it the symbol. It’s seen as just that, symbolism.”
Democrats have come to almost uniformly oppose money for a southern border wall, even though many party lawmakers voted to support it in legislation more than a decade ago when Congress passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
That legislation, signed into law by President Bush, called for 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border.
The bill passed with the help of Democrats, 26 in the Senate and 64 in the House. But the Democratic party has shifted politically since then.
The vast majority of the Democrats who voted for the bill in 2006 were among the now-scarce Blue Dog coalition of moderates who retired or were voted out of office in subsequent elections. The House Democratic Caucus is more uniformly liberal these days.
“It’s a deal killer for most Democrats,” Rep Gene Green, D-Texas, who voted against the wall in 2006 and remains opposed today, told the Washington Examiner. “This is 2017. We’ve already build a lot of structures along the border and it’s a political issue for the president but it’s not reality.”
Green, who represents Houston, said the wall would waste up to $40 billion and is ineffective, particularly for his district. “I’m going to vote ‘no’ if there is an appropriation bill that has a border wall in it. It’s just not needed.”
The dispute over wall funding is also threatening to scuttle a deal to legalize hundreds of thousands of young people brought illegally to the United States as children.
Democratic leaders thought they had secured a deal with President Trump to pass legislation legalizing these young people, or so-called Dreamers, but Trump appears to now be insisting on an immigration plan that first prioritizes security the border, interior enforcement, and the creation of a merit-based visa system. The proposal includes a border wall.
“The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement. “If the president was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so.”
Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., whose husband, former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. voted against the wall in 2006, is also opposed to the wall but would not say whether she would block a government funding bill that included it.
“I don’t do what if’s,” Dingell said.
Dingell said Congress needs to focus on securing the northern border, which she represents.
“I’m tired of everyone worried about the south when I’ve got a border that is more penetrable,” she said. “We are not putting enough money and resources into that area.”
The federal government is operating under a funding agreement that expires on Dec. 8, which is when a short-term spending bill runs out.
Cole, the appropriator, said he anticipates another short-term bill to carry funding forward a few months but he’s hoping a longer-term deal can be reached. He said Democrats and Republicans can negotiate money for border security and come to an agreement about the wall, even if it is included in a different bill.
“The biggest complication is, what is a border wall,” Cole said. Certain areas, due to the terrain, may not accommodate a wall, he said.
“Maybe additional personal, better electronics matter more,” Cole said.
But he warned that Democrats have to be careful about not overplaying their hand in the border security negotiations.
“I don’t know many Americans that are not for border security,” Cole said.