By Ted Hesson
July 25, 2017
House Republicans are poised to fund $1.6 billion for President Donald Trump’s border wall through a procedural maneuver designed to avoid a floor vote that might fail.
The House Rules Committee is expected to attach funding for the wall that Trump has proposed building along the Mexican border to the so-called minibus, a downsized spending package for the Pentagon, the Energy Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the legislative branch — but not DHS, the Cabinet agency responsible for the wall.
If an amendment to fund the wall is adopted by the Rules Committee, this line item can circumvent a floor vote, sparing GOP immigration moderates and fiscal hawks from being pressed to approve a project that their constituents might view as xenophobic, misguided and wasteful — and sparing GOP leaders possible defeat.
Border wall skeptics like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican from a majority-Hispanic district in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, are well aware that they’re being bypassed. “I’m not OK [with it], but it is what it is,” Ros-Lehtinen told POLITICO in an interview. “We hope that it will be dealt with later on, but it looks like it’s going to be included in the package.” Perhaps, she said, it will set the table for a broader deal on immigration reform.
The amendment under consideration by the Rules Committee was drafted by Rep. John Carter, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee. The measure would fund 60 miles of new fence and levee wall in south Texas and 14 miles of secondary fence in the San Diego area, and would earmark roughly $40 million toward planning for additional border wall construction.
At a committee hearing Monday, Carter called the funding “necessary to gain operational control of the border” — a view that is not shared by most House members, including Republicans, who represent districts near the border.
The anticipated Rules Committee maneuver leaves House Democrats a difficult choice: Approve money for Trump’s trademark project, or vote against military funding.
The spending bill that the House passed in May contained $341 million for replacement fencing, as well as additional funding for immigration enforcement. Only 15 Democrats opposed that measure, but the tally will be different this time around, said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
Although the inclusion of defense spending will make it “a tough bill to vote against,” Hoyer told reporters during a Tuesday morning briefing, he’s nonetheless urging congressional Democrats to vote “no.” “I think, overwhelmingly, Democrats are gonna not be for this bill,” he said.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat who served in the Marine Corps before he entered politics, has also been pushing his colleagues to vote against the spending measure.
“I don’t think they should fall for this trick,” he said at a press conference Tuesday outside the Capitol. “You can be pro-military and against the wall.”
Hoyer joined Gallego at the event, as did Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat and prominent immigrant-rights advocate. Gutierrez also urged fellow Democrats to reject the border funding.
“All we are saying is that Democrats have to stand, as a principle, with the immigrant community,” Gutierrez said. “We are tired of being some second-tier agenda in the platform of the Democratic Party.”
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