After State of the Union, lawmakers losing confidence on border security deal


    Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., speaks to WICS from Capitol Hill on Feb. 6, 2019. (WICS)

    Republicans said Wednesday President Donald Trump made a persuasive case for his border security plans in his State of the Union address, but they warned part of the government could shut down again next week if Democrats are not open to a compromise.

    “The only way to solve those shutdowns is to have he leaders of both parties, both institutions go sit down with the White House and work out a deal,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. “It can be done in a matter of minutes, I agree with the president on that, but you’ve got to show up. That’s what Speaker Pelosi has yet to do.”

    Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last met at the White House weeks ago, but negotiations are currently in the hands of a bipartisan conference committee trying to put together a border security funding package that will satisfy Trump and be able to pass through Congress. Given the chilly reception Trump’s immigration rhetoric got from Democrats in the House chamber Tuesday, Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, is not optimistic about the outcome.

    “I was looking at the body language and facial expression of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle during the speech and I’m not real confident we’re going to get some good, honest proposals to get off of high center,” Babin said.

    Republicans say Trump has moved away from his campaign’s somewhat singular focus on a border wall to a more comprehensive vision of security in line with what Border Patrol agents say works best—including physical barriers.

    “He mentioned immigration and securing the southern border, meeting what the border patrol tell us they need and we’ve always done: money for a border barrier, money for technology, and more officers and agents,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

    Democrats say they want stronger border security too, but many do not consider additional barriers an effective use of resources. Pelosi has also objected to the wall on moral grounds.

    Time is running out, though. Lawmakers have until Feb. 15 to reach a compromise on border security and Trump continues to insist that deal include funding for “a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier,” or a quarter of the government could shut down again.

    “I think the president clearly laid out his vision of what he feels is important when it comes to the southern border. I would urge everyone to listen to the border security officials,” Davis said.

    Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., said he is confident appropriators can reach an agreement the House and Senate would approve, but despite the optimistic tone of Tuesday’s speech, the president has indicated in recent public statements he has no such expectation.

    “I hope the president would do two things: be open to the idea of signing something and stop trashing the process, talking it down, saying it won’t work,” Casey said.

    Conspicuously absent from Trump’s address were any threats to shut down the government or declare a national emergency if Congress does not fund the wall. Trump also made no mention of the partial shutdown that just ended.

    The Democratic response delivered by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams hammered Trump over the five-week shutdown, which the president had taken credit for before it began.

    “The shutdown was a stunt, engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people but our values,” Abrams said.

    The section of Tuesday’s speech on the wall rehashed arguments Trump has made many times before, including in a televised primetime statement last month, without shifting public opinion, but he was speaking to a much larger audience that the White House hopes can be persuaded.

    Initial polling indicates the address may have been better received than the president’s past immigration pitches. A CBS News survey conducted after the speech found 76 percent of Americans who watched it approved, and more than half said they believed it would help unite the country. About seven in 10 respondents approved of Trump’s immigration proposals and agreed with his assessment that there is a crisis at the southern border.

    Notably, though, 43 percent of viewers identified themselves as Republicans, a significantly higher share than in the general population. While 97 percent of Republicans approved of the speech, 82 percent of independents and 30 percent of Democrats who watched felt the same way.

    Much of the audience may have agreed with Trump on immigration, but Rep. Will Hurd was less convinced. The Texas Republican, whose district includes about 800 miles of the southern border, has always been wary of the wall as a security solution. He supports the barriers authorized by Congress under the 2006 Secure Fence Act, but he would rather see resources spent on technology and manpower than more walls.

    “We should be focusing on how do we complete the Secure Fence Act,” he said. “How do we double down on technology at ports of entry and in between ports of entry? How do you streamline immigration? So let’s have a DACA fix, let’s fix TPS, Temporary Protected Status. Then let’s address the root cause, and that is violence and lack of economic opportunity in the Northern Triangle.”

    Hurd also challenged the president’s depiction of El Paso—part of which is in his district—as a border wall success story. The city saw a significant drop in crime in the 1990s after a surge of Border Patrol officers, but the barriers came years later.

    “He used an example of El Paso, which was incorrect,” Hurd said. “El Paso has been one of the safest cities in the United States of America for a really long time, way before the Secure Fence Act.”

    Babin, who has visited the border several times in recent months, maintained that walls are effective, and he dismissed efforts by Democrats to downplay the severity of the situation.

    “We need to get together because we’ve got some very, very horrible crises that are happening in our nation, not the least of which is down on our southern border,” Babin said. “It’s an absolute national crisis and its certainly not a manufactured crisis as the Democrats have said. This is the real deal.”

    As President Trump continues to make that argument to the public, his re-election campaign announced Wednesday he will hold a Make America Great Again rally next Monday at the El Paso County Coliseum because “there’s no better place to demonstrate that walls work than in El Paso.”

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