Texas Republicans want it both ways when it comes to a proposal to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
The House Homeland Security Committee approved a proposal Wednesday that would provide $10 billion for physical barriers on some parts of the Texas-Mexico border and use technology and border security agents to monitor other parts.
That plan, proposed by the committee chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, with input from the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, would allow Texas Republicans to both take credit for action on one of President Donald Trump’s top campaign promises while also demonstrating sensitivity to an issue that’s politically unpopular in their home state.
The House proposal doesn’t specify how much of Texas’s 1,254-mile border with Mexico would be fortified by barriers versus other technology.
But in Wednesday’s committee markups, where members of both parties could offer amendments on the bill, Democrats took every opportunity to frame the proposal as the first steps toward construction of Trump’s “big and beautiful wall.”
“There’s no question that the intention in this border security package is to put $10-$15 billion toward construction of the president’s border wall,” said Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, whose congressional district includes part of the border at the southern tip of the state.
Vela on Wednesday introduced an amendment poking fun at Republicans’ predicament. His amendment, which will not be included in the bill, sought to define the bill’s “border wall system” to meet Trump’s descriptions — including “beautiful,” “inexpensive,” “solar” and “paid for by the Mexican Government.”
“Put simply, the legislation under consideration today is an offensive joke and a fiscally irresponsible mess,” Vela said at the hearing. “The bill authorizes $10 billion for the racist border wall and does not even pretend to provide a way to pay for it.”
The committee approved the bill with a party-line vote Wednesday. It now heads to the Republican-controlled House for a vote. If passed, it would still need 60 votes in the Senate, where Republicans hold 52 seats.
Cornyn suggested last week that the border security bill could be packaged with a deal to protect recipients of the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from deportation. That idea has already drawn criticism from some Democrats who insist the two issues should remain separate.
Two other Democrats, El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, introduced legislation Wednesday to bar the federal government from seizing private land on the border to build the wall. In a press call, both men said the Republican-controlled Congress was cowing to Trump’s demands by providing funding for the wall.
“At the end of the day, [this wall] is only there to fulfill one thing and that’s Trump’s ego, and a campaign pledge that never made sense,” said Gallego.
Democrats see plenty of political advantage to talking about the wall. A poll released Wednesday by the Democratic polling firm Latino Decisions found that 75 percent of Latino voters in Texas who responded to the poll think the wall is “bad idea.”
Texas Republicans have agonized over how to handle the situation.
Part of the GOP base considers the wall a top issue and has already grown frustrated with Congress for not doing enough to help Trump’s agenda.
But polling shows that a majority of Texans don’t want a wall, and many of the state’s elected Republicans disagree with Trump’s call for a solid structure stretching the length of the border.
In a nod to that challenge, Cornyn and McCaul began work on their proposals, introduced this summer in the Senate and House respectively, shortly after Trump’s election. They collaborated with the Department of Homeland Security to navigate the politically tricky issue.
“We laid this plan out months ago … because we knew that based on the president’s campaign on border security that this was going to be one of the features of his administration,” Cornyn said Wednesday of the House bill.
“The president talks about a wall, and we believe that ought to be one of the options,” said Cornyn. But, he added: “It should be flexible enough to provide technology, personnel and infrastructure as appropriate to the location.
McCaul’s proposal calls for $10 billion to fund wall construction. It doesn’t specify where or what kind of wall, leaving that authority to the Department of Homeland Security.
It also allocates $5 billion to improve security checkpoints, adds 5,000 border patrol agents and authorizes the National Guard to help with border security.
Before Trump, Texas Republicans and Democrats had some history of working together on border issues.
South Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, teamed up with Republicans on a solution to Central American children crossing the border in 2014. Asked about the current predicament, Cuellar sympathized.
“McCaul is really trying to do his best,” Cuellar said. “I know what he’s trying to do, but at the same time the president wants that wall.”