Border-district Republicans skeptical about Trump's wall
House Republicans representing areas along the Mexican border are leery of President Trump’s plan to build a wall through their districts.
Three Republican lawmakers say undertaking such a massive project will fall short of alleviating the issues surrounding border security.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who represents the largest region along the Mexican border of any member of Congress, actively opposes the wall, a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign.
And Reps. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) have both expressed skepticism about how effective the wall would be at stopping the flow of people coming to the U.S. illegally.
Their lack of enthusiasm means there isn’t a single border-area lawmaker who vocally supports the construction of a wall in their district.
There are six deep-blue districts along the Mexican border — from California to Texas — all represented in the House by Democrats unified against Trump’s wall plan and home to voters who don’t want a wall in their backyards.
Voters in the regions along the border — which have significant Hispanic populations — predominantly favored Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over Trump last November.
Representing border districts are Democratic Reps. Juan Vargas (Calif.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Vicente González (Texas) and Filemon Vela (Texas).
Pearce’s southern New Mexico district was the only one along the border that Trump won on Nov. 8.
Hurd and McSally, on the other hand, face a tricky balancing act in Trump’s presidency after both of their swing districts narrowly went to Clinton.
After Trump signed an executive order last week taking steps toward building the wall, Hurd issued a statement breaking with his fellow Republicans to make clear he wasn’t on board.
Hurd noted that it would be “impossible” to build a physical wall in many parts of the more than 800 miles of the border in his district.
“Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border,” he said
“Each section of the border faces unique geographical, cultural, and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the agents on the ground with the resources they need. A wall may be an effective tool in densely populated areas, but a variety of tools are needed between Brownsville, Texas, and San Diego, California.”
Neither McSally nor Pearce went as far as Hurd, but both indicated that a one-size-fits-all strategy of a wall along the entire Mexican border doesn’t seem feasible.
McSally described Trump’s executive order, which also calls for hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, as a “strong start in the right direction.”
But McSally, who chairs a House Homeland Security subcommittee on border security, was less effusive about the executive order’s directions for building the wall.
“When it comes to barriers, they are important where appropriate, but only part of the equation. What we need is a comprehensive strategy to grow situational awareness, build operational control and dismantle the cartels and their networks,” she said.
And Pearce, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, signaled that he doesn’t think a wall alone would prevent illegal immigration.
“Building a wall or increasing the number of Border Patrol agents alone will not fix the faults with our border security,” he said. “We must enforce the laws we have and create a new strategy that will reform the way we patrol and protect the border.”
Pearce told the Albuquerque Journal after the November elections that the wall wouldn’t turn out to be the solution Trump and his supporters believe it to be.
“It can be cheated,” Pearce said at the time. “We communicated that we thought it’s not going to work because we see people going under it, around it and over it.”
But other Republicans are eager to get the project started.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an immigration hawk whose district is more than 1,000 miles away from the border, even has a scale model of the proposed structure that he showed off in a photo with new Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.
GOP leaders are making clear they want to make progress on one of Trump’s key campaign promises within the first year of his administration. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said after the joint House-Senate GOP retreat last week that he expects Congress to take up an emergency funding package to provide American taxpayer funding for the wall’s construction.
Estimates for its cost range from $10 billion to $20 billion. Trump pledged on the campaign trail that Mexico would pay for it, though Republicans haven’t laid out definitive plans for how to offset the wall’s cost or who will end up with the bill.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer floated the idea of a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico last week, later clarifying that such a move is just one option the White House is considering.
Mexican leaders have said repeatedly they won’t pay for the wall, and the disagreement led Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a meeting with Trump originally set for this week.