Se­nate GOP won't in­clude fund­ing for Trump's wall

Bud­get re­quest shelved; Cornyn says president’s bar­rier is metaphor­i­cal.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Maria Re­cio Spe­cial to the Amer­i­can-States­man

Se­nate Repub­li­cans are putting the brakes on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s $1.5 bil­lion ini­tial re­quest for a bor­der wall, as In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke ac­knowl­edged Wed­nes­day the dif­fi­culty of build­ing a wall in some parts of the Texas bor­der­lands, in­clud­ing Big Bend Na­tional Park.

Mean­while, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wed­nes­day that President Don­ald Trump speaks “metaphor­i­cally” when he calls for a bor­der wall and that the president doesn’t en­vi­sion a con­tin­u­ous wall.

At a Se­nate GOP lead­er­ship press con­fer­ence Tues­day, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., an­nounced that the pend­ing fund­ing bill for the cur­rent fis­cal year, which is fac­ing an April 28 dead­line, would pro­ceed with­out the sup­ple­men­tal re­quest for bor­der se­cu­rity and de­fense.

Democrats had been threat­en­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down

if the fund­ing bill in­cluded pay­ing for the bor­der wall. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has also re­quested $2.6 bil­lion for the wall in the next year’s bud­get.

De­spite the de­lay, the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment is redi­rect­ing about $20 mil­lion for bor­der wall con­struc­tion with bids on pro­to­types orig­i­nally sched­uled for Wed­nes­day now moved back and due next Tues­day. The agency has two “re­quests for pro­pos­als” for 30-foot-high walls made of re­in­forced con­crete or of “other mate- rial” such as fenc­ing that will also be 6 feet deep to in­hibit tun­nel­ing.

In a bud­get doc­u­ment ob­tained by the Amer­i­can-States­man, the agency sub­mit­ted to Congress de­tails of the ini­tial planned wall con­struc­tion, in­clud­ing 28 miles of a new levee wall sys- tem near McAllen at a cost of $498 mil­lion and 6 miles of new bor­der wall for $146 mil­lion in the Rio Grande Val­ley as well as 28 miles of wall and re­place­ment fenc­ing near San Diego.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuel­lar, D-Laredo, is op­posed to a wall but sup­ports the levee sys­tem be­cause the community fa­vors it. “It’s more of a levee than a fence,” Cuel­lar said in an in­ter­view.

“Trump said he’s go­ing to build a wall. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen,” Cuel­lar said. “It’s go­ing to be strate­gic fenc­ing.”

The wall has taken on new com­plex­i­ties as politi­cians in Wash­ing­ton have be­come more fa­mil­iar with the ter­rain along the bor­der and the es­ti­mated cost of $15 bil­lion to $25 bil­lion — which would be paid by U.S. tax­pay­ers, at least up front.

“When I hear the president talk about the wall, to me I think he’s speak­ing met- aphor­i­cally,” Cornyn told Texas re­porters Wed­nes­day. Cornyn said a “three-legged stool” of in­fra­struc­ture, tech- nol­ogy and per­son­nel was needed be­cause of the var­ied bor­der ter­rain. “You’re go­ing to have some places like Big Bend ... where obvi- ously a wall is not nec­es­sary and would not be use­ful.”

Zinke star­tled ob­servers with re­ported re­marks he made Tues­day sug­gest­ing that the wall would be built on the Mex­i­can side of the bor­der. “The bor­der is com­pli­cated, as far as build­ing a phys­i­cal wall,” he said. “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you go­ing to put the wall? We’re not go­ing to put it on our side and cede the river to Mex­ico. And we’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to put it in the mid­dle of the river.”

Asked about those com- ments, Cornyn said he was baf­fled. “I don’t know how that would work,” he said.

In a call with re­porters Wed­nes­day, Zinke, who has re­spon­si­bil­ity over fed­eral lands and wildlife on the bor­der, am­pli­fied his ear­lier com­ments, say­ing that build­ing a wall is “com­plex in some ar­eas,” such as Big Bend. “At the end of the day what’s im­por­tant is Amer­i­can se­cu­rity and to make sure we have a bor­der,” he said.

Mean­while, Cornyn, who met with the Mex­i­can am­bas- sador to the U.S. ear­lier this week, stressed to re­porters Mex­ico’s im­por­tance to the U.S. and the 5 mil­lion Amer- ican jobs that de­pend on trade with Mex­ico.

“The United States and Mex­ico have long ben­e­fited from a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship in the ar­eas of trade, de­fense, and na­tional se­cu­rity,” said Cornyn, who co-spon­sored a res­o­lu­tion Wed­nes­day sup­port­ive of the U.S.-Mex­ico strate­gic re­la­tion­ship. “It is vi­tally im­por­tant, par­tic­u­larly for Tex­ans, to en­sure this strate­gic part­ner­ship is main­tained by con­tin­u­ing to sup­port eco­nomic and diplo­matic co­op­er­a­tion be­tween our two coun­tries.”

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