William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, is on board with the president’s position on the border wall and the government shutdown — and his mischaracterization of Democrats’ position on border security too.
In an exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Barr backed the president’s wall-money-or-nothing approach to funding the government that has resulted in what is now the longest partial government shutdown in US history. Klobuchar asked Barr if he had a message to Justice Department employees who have been furloughed or are working without pay because of the shutdown.
“I would like to see a deal reached whereby Congress recognizes that it’s imperative to have border security and that part of that border security as a commonsense matter needs barriers,” Barr said.
Klobuchar pushed back. She pointed out that there were billions of dollars for border security in a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 and that just last year, there was an effort to put together a deal that would have tied protection for DREAMers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children — to billions of dollars for border security as well.
Barr responded that he was “generally aware” of the 2013 legislation but again insisted that there’s an urgent need for funding now.
“The point is we need money right now for border security, including barriers and walls and slats and other things,” he said. “Anything that makes sense in different areas of the border.”
As Barr, if confirmed, would be the head of one of the nine agencies affected by the shutdown, his words are not likely heartening to the people who would be working under him. And as attorney general, Barr is expected to act with independence — not out of loyalty to the political whims of the president. He would also have an important hand in shaping and enforcing US immigration policy.
Democrats aren’t against border security. They’re against this ploy from Trump.
As Klobuchar pointed out on Tuesday, it’s not the case that Democrats are for open borders and believe no action is necessary to fix the US immigration system. They’re against the political ploy Trump is currently undertaking in insisting that he get $5.7 billion for a border wall or keep the government shuttered, conceivably indefinitely.
As Vox’s Tara Golshan recently explained, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that Democrats won’t ever vote for a wall, she’s not saying Democrats are against border security altogether, including a physical barrier at the US-Mexico border:
After all, between 2007 and 2015, Customs and Border Protection spent $2.3 billion building and maintaining 654 miles of physical barriers on the southern border, which Democrats supported, and Democrats have voted for funding as recently as 2018. As one top Democratic aide said, they would support physical barriers again, if it “makes sense.”
What Pelosi is saying is that Trump doesn’t get to shut down the government as a way to fulfill a campaign promise — especially one that carries the baggage of his anti-immigration platform. That’s where Trump and Republicans misunderstand Pelosi and Democrats’ position on the government shutdown and border wall fight.
It’s not surprising that Barr would back Trump on the wall and the shutdown: He likely doesn’t want to cross Trump before he even gets the job he’s been nominated for, and, like Trump, he has a history of being a hardliner on immigration.
In another line of questioning on Tuesday from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Barr said that “one of our major problems, as the president says, is that the immigration laws just have to be changed.” He pointed specifically to people seeking asylum, some of whom he claimed are “abusing” the system.
Barr brought up the need for “barriers at the border” in the exchange with Ernst too, in relation to drugs coming into the US.
“All the serious drugs are coming across that border,” he said. “And, again, I feel it is a critical part of border security that we need to have barriers on the border. We need a barrier system on the border to get control over the border.”
Trump’s wall won’t fix the opioid epidemic, contrary to Trump’s — and apparently Barr’s — claims, as Vox’s German Lopez recently explained. Drug trafficking through legal points of entry is how most illegal drugs get into the United States.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) during Tuesday’s hearing pointed that out and asked whether Barr was aware of it. “Yes, but they also come elsewhere, and so do illegal immigrants cross the border,” he said. He also acknowledged that it has been almost 30 years since he’s visited a US port of entry.
During the same exchange, Harris asked directly if Barr was advocating for a wall. “I think I’m advocating a system, a barrier system, in some places,” he said. “And I’d have to find out more about the situation since I last visited the border.”