U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is chipping holes in President Trump’s vision of a massive border wall.
A wall spanning the length of the U.S.-Mexico border is a signature piece of Trump’s domestic agenda. It’s of such magnitude to him politically that he fumed with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and pleaded with him to stop saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for it. More on that remarkable conversation later.
For Cornyn, however, a border wall is important — but it’s not everything.
“It’s not the whole story,” the Republican senator from Texas said Thursday as he presented his $15 billion border security plan, one that relies more on personnel, surveillance and technology and less on a wall than the president would like.
Cornyn’s border plan calls for a layered strategy of walls, fencing, levees and technology. Called it the Building America’s Trust Act, the bill would increase the number of federal agents at ports of entry and on the border, as well as add more immigration judges and prosecutors. It also would pour more resources into state and local efforts to fight drug trafficking.
Cornyn’s plan brings a more reasoned and tactical alternative to Trump’s one-size-fits-all border wall approach. It is also likely to go over better with Texans and border state Republicans who oppose a wall for many reasons, including that it’s expensive, inefficient and would disrupt lives, trade and commerce.
Unlike the president’s raucous supporters at campaign stops, a lot of Texans don’t think a contiguous wall is necessary, nor do they think it will work. Many of those critics live along the border. Cornyn made it a point to say federal authorities should consult local officials and law enforcement, not politicians, in shaping border strategy.
That’s something you hear a lot in South Texas and up and down the border, where some residents feel they’ve become a requisite photo op for politicians who swoop in for an hour or two to assess border security — as if that’s all it takes — then return to their respective homes in faraway states. That’s what Trump the presidential candidate did in a 2015 visit to Laredo.
Cornyn’s bill contains some of the same ideas as a bill announced last month by another Texas Republican, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, who is thought to be a candidate to replace John Kelly as the Homeland Security chief. He, too, is a proponent of fencing and multilayered border security strategies.
Congressional Democrats oppose a border wall. It’ll be interesting to see if either bill gains any traction and receives bipartisan support. As a border senator and majority whip, Cornyn holds sway in Congress and on the fortunes of any border security measure. McCaul is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee
‘You cannot say that to the press.’
Trump paved a path to the White House in no small measure on his boastful promise to build a “beautiful” border wall.
“And who’s going to pay for it?” Trump would ask delirious supporters at campaign rallies.
“Mexico will!” they would roar in response.
RELATED: Why the border wall fences us in.
But leaked transcripts of a January phone call between Trump and Peña Nieto reveal the president knew Mexico would never pay for the wall — and that his demand for payment was just a political play. Trump wanted the Mexican president to stop saying publicly that Mexico would not pay for a wall.
In the phone call, Trump acknowledged that his public posturing on the wall had left him in an extremely tight spot politically.
“The fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind, because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to,” Trump told Peña Nieto.
When the Mexican president kept insisting that Mexico would never pay, Trump said: “You cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”
Later during the call, Trump said the border wall is not all that important – remarkable, considering all his bluster about it.
“Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important (thing we) talk about,” Trump said.
More recently Trump has steered away from demanding that Mexico pay. He’s asked Congress for a $1.6 billion down payment for the wall, which the House has approved. Mexico will “reimburse” the U.S., Trump has said, without offering details on how that might happen.
That all sounds fuzzy. One thing is clear from that January phone call, however: Mexico won’t pay for the wall — and Trump knows it.
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That means — and let’s face it, we knew this all along — American taxpayers will foot the bill, which the Department of Homeland Security says could hit $21.6 billion.
Knowing this, how might Trump’s applause line have gone over with his cheering campaign crowds?
“We’re going to build a big, beautiful wall along the entire border!”
“And who’s going to pay for it?”