Border wall shutdown leaves Texas Republican Will Hurd in the middle

January 4, 2019
In The News

WASHINGTON – In the first showdown vote of the Democratic-led House over President Donald Trump's promised border wall, Texas Republican Will Hurd looks like a man caught in the middle.

Hurd, who won reelection in November with less than a single percentage point, was one of seven Republicans voting to reopen the shuttered parts of the government without a deal on a wall.

Amid escalating tensions Friday with the partial government shutdown entering its third week, Hurd made a plea for bipartisanship.

"I don't think playing politics with a shutdown is something we should be doing," he said on Texas Public Radio, "so I'm always going to work to keep the government open."

All the other members of the Texas congressional delegation, including nine freshman House members, voted along party lines.

Among the new faces was Houston Republican Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who has argued for working with Mexico to reduce illegal immigration. "I know from my experience as a Navy SEAL that barriers work," he said in a statement. "Democrats' argument that a wall is ineffective is not based on reason or fact, but on partisanship."

But even as Hurd broke with Republicans on the shutdown, he said Democrats still have to address border security.

"This is about everybody working together," he said in the radio interview. "This is not just about getting on board with what the Democrats want to do. Democrats, if they're interested in solving this problem, then they need to be having conversations as well about the various aspects of border security."

Hurd also held out the hope of resolving the shutdown through a broader deal linking border security with protections for young immigrants known as Dreamers, an issue that he has long championed for his heavily Latino, West Texas border district.

"That could solve this problem, and everybody needs to be serious about this," Hurd said.

Trump, later in the day, said he would reopen last year's failed negotiations on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

"There are a lot of things that can happen with DACA if Democrats want to discuss it," Trump said.

Democrats, who uniformly oppose Trump's demand for $5 billion in wall funding, welcomed the GOP defections as possible signs of a cracks in the shutdown standoff, which has shuttered a half-dozen government agencies and left some 800,000 federal employees furloughed or working without pay since December 21.

Amid new talks between Trump and Democratic congressional leaders on Friday, little emerged by way of a deal. But as negotiations continue into the weekend, Democrats were encouraged by the move by lawmakers like Hurd, whose district went to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

They also pointed to Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine. Both are up for reelection in 2020 in states Trump lost. Both broke ranks saying it is time to end the stalemate even without wall funding.

"We're seeing some real cracks in the Republican wall," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor Friday.

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met later with Trump, who called the meeting "productive."

Schumer, however, told reporters afterwards that the meeting was "somewhat contentious" and that the president had warned that the shutdown could last "months or even years."

Trump, in a Rose Garden appearance after the meeting, said he could build a wall without Congress by declaring a national emergency. The stance, which would face legal challenge, echoed a previous remark on Twitter last month that he could have the military build a wall.

As both sides dug in, each sought to deflect blame for the impasse. While the new Democratic House majority passed a package of bills Thursday to reopen the government without additional wall funding, Republicans called it a show vote that could never clear the Senate, where Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would not consider any legislation that Trump would not sign.

Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, one of McConnell's top lieutenants, doubled down on that position Friday in a Fox television interview. "This is a deal that has to be cut between Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump before Senator McConnell will bring it up on the Senate floor and then pass it," he said.

Democrats accused Senate Republicans, who approved a similar stopgap funding measure last month, of abrogating their legislative responsibilities.

"We have a responsibility as members of Congress to really do our job," said Houston Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee. "We made a commitment to the American people to run the government ... Let the president be the determining factor as to whether or not he will sign this bill."

While the funding bills the House passed Thursday night contain no money for a border wall, they would continue the $1.3 billion for fencing and other border security upgrades approved last March as part of a 2018 spending bill.

Some Texas Republicans said that falls far short of a compromise on Trump's demand for more than $5 billion, a sum the House passed last month when it was still under Republican control.

Houston Republican Kevin Brady pressed for the need for more border security Friday in a Fox News interview. "I know the Democrats are hung up on calling it a wall, but I don't care if they call it a gender-neutral palisade or a linear monument to climate change," he said. "In truth, we need more resources for border security."

Definitions of what would meet Trump's demands for a border wall have shifted in recent weeks, with Trump suggesting on Friday that steel barriers, rather than concrete, might be the best barrier.

Texas Democrats, however, accused Republicans of turning what they see as a fanciful campaign boast about a wall Mexico would pay for into a taxpayer-funded monument to waste.

"If you want to spend billions of dollars on a wall, I will spend $100 on a ladder that will take care of that wall," said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat who sits on the House Appropriations Committee.

Many Republicans also have called for more comprehensive approaches to border security, including Hurd, whose defection on Thursday was not a surprise.

Hurd also was one of eight Republican House members who voted in December against a GOP-backed funding measure that included $5.7 billion in wall funding. He has pushed for technology and manpower upgrades he describes as a "smart wall" rather than a "physical barrier."

At the time, as the government lurched toward a shutdown, he tweeted: "The American people sent us up here to get things done, and the only way we can get things done is by working together."