Originally Published Politico
Talking to reporters Wednesday, Sen. John Cornyn said border security requires a mix of infrastructure, technology and personnel, not just an imposing structure. | Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Nearly every lawmaker who represents a district or state along the U.S.-Mexico border — including two Republicans — either opposes outright or more quietly declines to support President Donald Trump’s $5.7 billion request for a border wall, according to a survey conducted by POLITICO.
That poses an awkward reality for the president as he visits McAllen, Texas, Thursday to receive a briefing on border security. The politicians situated in the heart of a purported immigration crisis don’t agree that spending billions on a border wall — or “steel slats,” as Trump now prefers — will benefit their region.
The dissenters include Texas Rep. Will Hurd, the only Republican House member who represents a border district, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who will accompany the president on Thursday. Cornyn dodged questions Wednesday about whether he backs Trump’s $5.7 billion demand.
“I support a solution to the problem,” Cornyn told reporters when asked specifically about the sum. “I think it’s going to be negotiated.”
Cornyn was more blunt Monday talking to Fox News. “Coming from Texas with a 1,200-mile common border with Mexico," he said, "the idea of a wall is somewhat off-putting to a lot of people.” In a separate Fox News interview Tuesday, Cornyn said: "There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for the entire border. It's quite a diverse geography.”Email
Trump, whose insistence on border funding plunged the federal government into a partial shutdown that’s entered its third week, will make his case Thursday in McAllen. As he meets with law enforcement professionals and other backers, opposition from border lawmakers — and many of their constituents — will loom in the backdrop.
POLITICO polled the offices of 17 Senate and House members who represent Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California about Trump’s $5.7 billion border barrier request. Only two — Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) — said they supported it.
Cruz called the amount “a good first step” when asked about the sum on Wednesday. “I think we need more than that,” he added.
McSally, who was sworn in as a senator last week, previously served in the House. In late December, she voted in favor of a spending bill that provided the wall funding.
When asked if she still supported that amount, McSally said she “already voted in the House,” but declined to comment further.
In the House, eight of nine border lawmakers are Democrats. The Democratic members all told POLITICO they’re against the $5.7 billion request. Instead, they favor spending for increased border security technology, improved screening at ports of entry and more personnel to handle asylum processing.
Rep. Juan Vargas, a California Democrat who represents a district that includes the southern part of San Diego, called Trump’s request “a new level of absurdity” in a written statement provided to POLITICO.
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez — a Texas Democrat whose district includes a small stretch of the border near McAllen — said the president’s visit to the city should demonstrate that illegal immigration isn’t causing a crime wave.
“If the president does visit McAllen, Texas, he should feel free to walk around and support our local businesses,” Gonzalez said in a written statement. “After all, it is safer to walk around McAllen than it is [in] D.C.”
Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a newly elected Democrat who represents a New Mexico district with more than 175 miles of U.S.-Mexico border, opposes Trump’s request. She said a wall across her entire district would be “fiscally irresponsible,” since mountains provide natural barriers, but added that existing fencing in high-traffic areas makes sense.
Hurd, the sole border Republican in the House, makes no secret of his opposition to Trump's $5.7 billion demand. After narrowly winning reelection in November, Hurd was one of seven Republicans who sided with House Democrats last week to reopen shuttered parts of the government without a deal on the wall.
“Everyone tries to act like this is some scary drug cartel movie back in the day," Hurd told CNN on Tuesday. "The reality is that there are people sneaking into the country, we can stop that if we have smart solutions, and that's ultimately going to be relying on technology."
In the Senate, Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein of California and Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico all told POLITICO they’re against Trump’s plan.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who moved to the Senate from the House last week, declined to speak with a reporter in the Capitol on Wednesday. Her office did not respond to multiple requests by email and in person to share her views of Trump’s funding proposal.
She also opted not to vote in late December when the House considered the bill that provided $5.7 billion for a border wall.
Talking to reporters Wednesday, Cornyn said border security requires a mix of infrastructure, technology and personnel, not just an imposing structure.
“I think the president likes the term ‘wall’ because he thinks it’s a vivid description of what infrastructure is all about,” Cornyn told reporters. “But clearly what we’re talking about is something more than a concrete wall.”
For years, Cornyn has led lawmakers on behind-the-scenes tours of the border in South Texas, according to his office. The attendees have included Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), as well as Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and former Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who lost a reelection bid in November to Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen.
On the tours, Cornyn introduced legislators to Border Patrol agents and local leaders who argued the region thrives off cross-border trade with Mexico — a message more of mutual prosperity than crisis.
On a November trip with Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents a Texas district stretching south from San Antonio to the border, Cornyn's group toured an immigration detention center and spoke at a federal courthouse in Laredo.
Cornyn and Cruz will both be in South Texas on Thursday with Trump. Cornyn will host a roundtable after the president’s visit with border-area mayors, civic leaders and Border Patrol officials.
Sergio Contreras, president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, a local business association, has accompanied Cornyn on the educational outings. He said border lawmakers “understand the realities [of the border] because they represent our region and walk our streets.”
Many border lawmakers worry that building a wall would threaten local economies, force private landowners to cede their property and harm the environment, especially in areas such as Big Bend National Park in West Texas.
Contreras, who will be at the Thursday roundtable, said even discussion of a wall has caused some Mexican investors to halt millions of dollars of investments in retail and residential real estate projects in the Rio Grande Valley. He argues a wall would discourage Mexican shoppers from crossing the border to Texas. Those shoppers make up between 30 to 45 percent of the area’s retail sales, according to a 2012 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Laredo’s Democratic Mayor Pete Saenz, who has joined Cornyn’s border trips and will be at the event Thursday, said he disagrees with the president’s assessment that there’s a crisis on the border.
“Do we have incidents of activity? By all means,” said Saenz, who supports stepped-up security measures but not a wall. “To the extent of calling it a crisis and building these huge walls and physical barriers, we haven’t reached that.”