U.S. Senate slows Trump border wall spending request


Highlights

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke acknowledged the difficulty of building a wall in Big Bend.

Zinke suggested building a wall on the Mexican side, baffling U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

Senate Republicans are putting the brakes on the Trump administration’s $1.5 billion initial request for a border wall, as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke acknowledged Wednesday the difficulty of building a wall in some parts of the Texas borderlands, including Big Bend National Park.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wednesday that President Donald Trump speaks “metaphorically” when he calls for a border wall and that the president doesn’t envision a continuous wall.

At a Senate GOP leadership press conference Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., announced that the pending funding bill for the current fiscal year, which is facing an April 28 deadline, would proceed without the supplemental request for border security and defense.

Democrats had been threatening a government shutdown if the funding bill included paying for the border wall. The Trump administration has also requested $2.6 billion for the wall in the next year’s budget.

Despite the delay, the Homeland Security Department is redirecting about $20 million for border wall construction with bids on prototypes originally scheduled for Wednesday now moved back and due next Tuesday. The agency has two “requests for proposals” for 30-foot-high walls made of reinforced concrete or of “other material” such as fencing that will also be 6 feet deep to inhibit tunneling.

RELATED: Chief Texas property rights group states concern about border wall

In a budget document obtained by the American-Statesman, the agency submitted to Congress details of the initial planned wall construction, including 28 miles of a new levee wall system near McAllen at a cost of $498 million and 6 miles of new border wall for $146 million in the Rio Grande Valley as well as 28 miles of wall and replacement fencing near San Diego.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, is opposed to a wall but supports the levee system because the community favors it. “It’s more of a levee than a fence,” Cuellar said in an interview.

“Trump said he’s going to build a wall. It’s not going to happen,” said Cuellar. “It’s going to be strategic fencing.”

The wall has taken on new complexities as politicians in Washington have become more familiar with the terrain along the border and the estimated cost of $15 billion to $25 billion — which would be paid by U.S. taxpayers, at least up front.

“When I hear the president talk about the wall, to me I think he’s speaking metaphorically,” Cornyn told Texas reporters Wednesday. Cornyn said a “three-legged stool” of infrastructure, technology and personnel was needed because of the varied border terrain. “You’re going to have some places like Big Bend … where obviously a wall is not necessary and would not be useful.”

Zinke startled observers with reported remarks he made Tuesday suggesting that the wall would be built on the Mexican side of the border. “The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall,” he said. “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall? We’re not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.”

Asked about those comments, Cornyn said he was baffled. “I don’t know how that would work,” he said.

SPECIAL REPORT: Statesman journalists fanned out to cover the prospects of a border wall

In a call with reporters Wednesday, Zinke, who has responsibility over federal lands and wildlife on the border, amplified his earlier comments, saying that building a wall is “complex in some areas,” such as Big Bend. “At the end of the day what’s important is American security and to make sure we have a border,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cornyn, who met with the Mexican ambassador to the U.S. earlier this week, stressed to reporters Mexico’s importance to the U.S. and the 5 million American jobs that depend on trade with Mexico.

“The United States and Mexico have long benefited from a symbiotic relationship in the areas of trade, defense, and national security,” said Cornyn, who co-sponsored a resolution Wednesday supportive of the U.S.-Mexico strategic relationship. “It is vitally important, particularly for Texans, to ensure this strategic partnership is maintained by continuing to support economic and diplomatic cooperation between our two countries.”



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