Powerful Texas Republicans try to steer Trump on wall

Heavy construction equipment is trailered in at the entrance that leads to where the prototype border walls will be constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border, on the corner of Enrico Fermi Drive and Via De La Amistad.
Heavy construction equipment is trailered in at the entrance that leads to where the prototype border walls will be constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border, on the corner of Enrico Fermi Drive and Via De La Amistad. TNS

Texas Republicans think they know better than President Donald Trump when it comes to a wall along the southern border.

A pair of powerful Texas GOP lawmakers have crafted a plan designed to avoid the construction of the sort of the politically unpopular U.S.-Mexico wall Trump has urged.

Next week, the House Homeland Security Committee will consider the Texas plan, first introduced in July by the committee’s chairman, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul. Texas Sen. John Cornyn introduced a similar bill in the Senate last month.

The plan McCaul’s committee will consider, which Cornyn said was done in collaboration with his office, includes some physical barriers, but not a solid wall along the border. It also includes money for technology and increased border security personnel. The proposal was crafted after months of discussions with the Trump administration, which has its own ideas.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Cornyn suggested the eventual package could be paired with a solution for preserving in some form the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is set to end in six months.

Trump has tasked Congress with finding a solution for the nearly 800,000 young people currently benefiting from the program. About 125,000 live in Texas.

Most Republicans and Democrats agree that Congress should provide protection from deportation for the young people who were brought into the country illegally as children. Republicans insist on increased border security to go along with that solution, while some Democrats want to keep the two issues separate.

“The border security bill we're talking about was actually prepared with this in mind,” Cornyn said of the Congress’ strategy on DACA.

Cornyn said his and McCaul’s proposals would authorize $15 billion for “a whole range of tools” to secure the border. The bill, he said, could be “a credibility-building measure” for Republicans, when combined with a solution for DACA holders.

By presenting their own border security plan, Cornyn and McCaul also hope to steer the policy on an issue where many Texas GOP lawmakers disagree with the White House.

Texas Republicans have a long history of splitting with their national party on border and immigration, and are well aware that backing Trump’s proposals could cost them politically. Democratic leaders in Texas are already plotting to use Trump’s policies on both issues to motivate the state’s large bloc of Latino voters in the 2018 elections.

Cornyn and McCaul drafted their own proposal for border security after Trump won the November election touting a plan to build a wall along the state’s southern border.

The practical implications of a wall have drawn concerns from Texas farmers and ranchers near the border, as well as environmentalists who don’t want it cutting through Texas’s Big Bend National Park. A Texas Lyceum Poll taken in April of this year found 61 percent of respondents opposed building a wall along the Texas-Mexico border.

“One reason President Trump was elected was his commitment to strong border security and to enforcing the law,” Cornyn told the Star-Telegram Thursday. “We in Texas know that we share the longest common border with Mexico, and it just makes sense to me that it would be a Texas oriented solution.”

That plan has drawn praise from Texas Republicans across the political spectrum, who want Texans to take the lead in devising the plan.

“The administration has an opportunity to outthink us, but I think that they will see the wisdom of what we’re intending to do,” Rep. Pete Sessions said of McCaul’s proposal Thursday.

Sessions, whose district includes parts of North Dallas, is one of three Texas Republicans seeking reelection in districts Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election. His seat is being targeted by Democrats, who have multiple candidates lined up to challenge him.

“We value our relationship with Mexico… we have to do it right,” said Sessions. “Operational control of the border is more important any day of the week than drawing walls.”

Even among Texans who have taken a tougher stance on the border, flexibility on the wall remains a concern.

“There’s no substitute for a wall in the places where it’s necessary, but yes I think it’s helpful to have Texans leading on that who understand,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, one of the delegation’s toughest anti-immigration voices.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on McCaul’s plan. Trump discussed a deal involving border security measures and a DACA fix with Democratic leaders earlier this month, but the White House later said no agreement was reached.

White House officials have drafted their own wish list of border security measures in exchange for a DACA fix, including much stricter measures that could cause some Republican members to balk.

Andrea Drusch @AndreaDrusch