SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — There is currently no end in sight for the partial government shutdown, and a change in control of Congress could drag it into the new year.
President Trump still demands $5 billion for a border wall (or “barrier”–more on that below) and Democrats are still refusing to consider any funding for a wall. Democratic leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced on the Senate Floor, “President Trump, you will not get your wall.”
On January 3, 2019, the House of Representatives will be majority Democrat and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will likely be the new Speaker of the House. The president’s incoming Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace that Pelosi is in a tough spot.
“I think she’s in that unfortunate position of being beholden to her left wing to where she cannot be seen as agreeing with the president on anything until after she is speaker,” Mulvaney said. “And if that’s the case, the shutdown could “go into the next Congress.”
Pelosi does not sound like a woman with a difficult choice, although she acknowledged a long shutdown, writing in a statement on December 22, “Until President Trump can publicly commit to a bipartisan resolution, there will be no agreement before January when the new House Democratic Majority will swiftly pass legislation to re-open government.”
There appear to be two major sticking points: (1) what is being built, and (2) how much money there is for what is being built.
What is Being Built
The president says he wants a “big, beautiful wall” and Democrats say they will never fund a wall, but there seems to be, at best, confusion over what constitutes a wall. This is one place where there could be compromise.
Customs and Border Protection Wants Walls That Allow Agents to See the Other Side
On December 11, 2018, the Commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he was repeatedly asked about a border wall. As he sees it, a wall is something with the “ability to impede or deny access to a certain area of the border to people trying to cross illegally.”
He explicitly rejected the idea of a “single concrete wall” and told Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) the walls have to be see-through.
“It’s an officer and agent safety issue to be able to have a transparent barrier, so you can see threats from the other side. The president and administration have supported the barrier that our agents are asking for that does in include that capability,” McAleenan said.
Commissioner McAleenan also said the CBP only wants walls in certain places. “We have not asked for a wall system for all 1954 miles; only where it would be an effective part of an integrated border security strategy.” And in those places, “we’re talking about a physical barrier combined with sensors, cameras, lighting and access.”
Pelosi and Schumer Regard See-Through Walls as Fencing
For some Democrats, it seems the only thing that qualifies as a “wall” is a barrier that is solid and concrete. This definition allows them to state truthfully, “we will not fund the wall” or “I did not vote for the wall.” Of course, this allows them to vote for “fencing” that is an equally–if not more–effective barrier.
In March 2018, 111 Democrats in the House (including Pelosi) voted for the 2018 budget. (HR 1625)
It included $1,337,000,000 for “fencing” in various “sectors” and $38,000,000 for “border barrier planning and design”
Some of the fencing had to allow “cross-barrier visual situational awareness” and the rest was limited to designs already in use “such as currently deployed steel bollard designs, that prioritize agent safety.”
(The president’s tweet in December 21 of his new “Steel Slat Barrier” is a steel bollard design)
Thus, all the fencing had to be see-though somehow.
When the president tweeted, “Got $1.6 Billion to start Wall on Southern Border, rest will be forthcoming,” Pelosi corrected him on the floor of the House.
“That’s not completely true Mister President,” she said on March 22. “There’s some resources for fencing and repairs and the rest there. But some of that money is for technology and other ways to protect our borders. We all have a responsibility to protect our borders, North and South. But if you wanna think that you’re getting a wall, you just think it and sign the bill.”
Clearly, Pelosi did not regard even steel bollard fencing as a wall.
Once the 2018 budget was signed, it was on to the 2019 budget. In June of this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee (with yes votes from ten Democrats) endorsed a bill (S. 3109) to give Border Patrol another $1.6 billion “for approximately 65 miles of pedestrian fencing along the southwest border in the Rio Grande Valley Sector.”
That fencing is also required to use a design already in use, such as the steel bollard.
After some Democrats in the House raised objections to the 2019 proposal, Schumer tweeted, “Our position has been clear from the beginning: Ds & Rs have a months-old agreement in the Senate. $1.6B for border security, NOT a concrete wall or increases in detention beds or ICE agents.”
In other words, what Schumer thinks of as a wall is a “concrete wall” and steel bollard barriers are “border security.”
President Trump Has A Flexible View of the Wall
President Trump campaigned on his promise to “Build The Wall,” telling crowds his background as a developer made him qualified to deliver. For example, on January 18, 2016, at a rally in Concord New Hampshire, he said, “When you build buildings like I build buildings, believe me, walls are easy. No windows, no nothing, precast concrete going very high.”
By October 25, 2007, he had changed his mind about the concrete, telling Lou Dobbs, “You think of a wall as a wall. But honestly you do need some see through ability because you don’t know who’s – if you do pure concrete which is a wall then you can’t see who’s on the other side.”
More recently, since announcing his demand for $5 billion dollars for a border wall, the president has peppered his tweets and statements with words like “barriers” and “steel slats” and “steel barrier.”
And writing in a December 18 tweet, “The Democrats, are saying loud and clear that they do not want to build a Concrete Wall–but we are not building a Concrete Wall, we are building artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it….”
It appears that Trump is more interested in getting an agreement on the funding then getting an agreement that the barriers are walls.
How Much Money?
The $1.6 billion already approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee was a budget proposal from the president. In April, Commissioner McAleenan told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, “With regard to border security, the president’s budget requests $1.6 billion to be applied toward the construction of 65 miles of border wall system.”
It was approved but on December 11, the president announced $5 billion is the required amount.
Republicans, who control the House for a few more weeks, did approve a bill (HR 695) on Thursday to appropriate $5,710,357,000 for fiscal year 2019 to CBP “Procurement, Construction, and Improvements.”