From one perspective, President Donald Trump’s famous wall on the US-Mexico border is actually turning into a serious, steady policy effort. From another perspective, it’s an enormous joke that even the Trump administration doesn’t believe anymore.
It all depends on how you define “wall.”
Trump promised that he would build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. So Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX) is trying to hold the president and Republicans to that promise.
The House Homeland Security Committee is debating a bill to give Trump more money and authority to build a “border wall system”; Vela wants to add an amendment that would define the “wall” according to the president’s own promises — including saying that it’s only a wall if Mexico pays for it.
The Trump administration is definitely moving forward with a plan to build more physical barriers on the border. The government’s chosen a handful of contractors to build prototypes, which are currently being erected near San Diego.
The administration keeps asking (so far unsuccessfully) for an extra few billion dollars to build a few dozen miles of fencing and levee walls. But Republicans in the House of Representatives are trying to give the administration even more.
The bill marked up in the House Homeland Security Committee Wednesday would put $10 billion toward “tactical infrastructure” (including a “border wall system) and would give the government more legal authority to take private land for the wall — instead of getting tied up in lawsuits from landowners that can take a decade or more to resolve.
But fencing and levee walls, or even a “border wall system,” aren’t what President Trump ran on in 2016. He ran on building a wall, and making the Mexican government pay for it.
Vela’s amendment, below, has no hope of getting added to the bill the Homeland Security Committee’s considering. But it is allowing him to make a point about how Trump isn’t keeping his promises.
.@RepFilemonVela trolls with an amendment that would define "border wall system" based on Trump's promises, including Mexico paying for it pic.twitter.com/feTOf0QKvp— Ted Hesson (@tedhesson) October 4, 2017
Vela’s list includes some of the technical requirements that the Department of Homeland Security has set for the border wall prototypes: being able to prevent tunneling for at least 6 feet below the ground and resist jackhammering for at least 30 minutes.
But it also includes some of the president’s own promises about the wall, many of which are, shall we say, less concrete: that the wall be “big and beautiful”; that it be “see-through” but also “made of rebar and steel”; that it be “solar”; and that it be “paid for by the Mexican Government.”
The amendment is clearly a troll. But it’s an effective troll because it hits on the difficulty that both Democrats and Republicans face when it comes to the wall.
The things the Trump administration is actually proposing to build, in the short term, are pretty modest — they’re proposals that Democrats would have supported 10 years ago, and that, in some cases, even border communities themselves are okay with. But because the Trump administration is trying to use them to fill the president’s best-known campaign promise, they’re getting labeled a “wall” — and Democrats have no desire to help Trump build his wall.
Many congressional Republicans, for their part, don’t want to throw billions of dollars at something so expensive and untested as a “border wall” — and that antipathy is making them resistant even to funding a few dozen miles of fencing.
If the Trump administration simply admitted that the things it wants to build on the border in the next year aren’t a wall, it might find less resistance from Congress. But it won’t do that. Because a wall is what Trump promised, and a wall is what he’s going to claim to build.