Border wall towers over Congressional shutdown standoff

“If somebody’s getting all squeamish about the border wall, I mean, frankly my response is:  Kiss my a**,”  Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told CBS News, as he made another long drive between events in Texas, four weeks before a looming federal government shutdown.

Twenty-six days before the deadline to avert an impasse that threatens government operations and a jolt to the U.S. economy, an expanded southern border wall appears to be a towering obstacle. Even before it is built.

House members will return to Washington next week, facing the daunting task of passing nearly a dozen yearly spending bills through a polarized and contentious chamber of Congress.  

The first order of business appears to be a $62 billion plan to fund the Department of Homeland Security, a debate that is scheduled to begin in the House Rules Committee one day after the nation holds services to mourn the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.  

The House bill includes a number of contentious items, ranging from reductions in funding for government diversity programs to reductions in humanitarian and climate programs. But perhaps the biggest and most paralyzing source of contention is a multi-billion dollar investment in expanding a wall at the southern border.

Former President Donald Trump Faces Possible Indictment Surrounding Jan. 6 Investigation
 The U.S. Capitol Building on August 01, 2023 in Washington, DC. 

Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

House Republicans have championed expansion of the border wall for several years, echoing a campaign pillar of former President Donald Trump. The House Republican bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which could reach the House floor by mid-September, would allocate $2.104 billion to build and expand a southern border barrier.

Roy, whose district includes a large swath of Texas north of San Antonio, has a seat on the House Rules Committee, which has scheduled the Sept. 12 hearing to debate about whether to advance the spending bill to the House floor.  

Speaking with CBS News, Roy said, “It’s massively important.  We need to do it. We paid for it. There are parts (of the wall) that are rusting.”   

Roy said the Biden administration has been “trying to sell it off. We’ve been paying people not to build it. It’s completely absurd. You do need a border infrastructure.”

“A wall is a sixth century solution. It’s just a horrible, horrible bill,” said Democratic Rep. David Trone of Maryland, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security.   “Republicans are villainizing immigrants with their bigotry by saying they’re bringing fentanyl over the border.”

In a report accompanying the legislation, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said previous attempts to fund expansion of the border wall have been scuttled by the Biden Administration.   The House Republicans’ report said that the Biden administration “has at every turn taken steps to frustrate the clear and unambiguous intent of Congress in providing this funding.”

“Instead of building border wall system as the law requires, this Administration has canceled contracts, allowed materials to waste away in the elements, and left unfinished sections of barrier that create funnels for illegal migration and make more difficult the job of Border Patrol Agents,” the report continued. 

House Democrats have blasted the proposal and countered the criticisms from Republicans about the wall, with top Democrats on the House Appropriations writing a report to accompany the spending bill. 

“This bill continues to waste billions of dollars on an ineffective border wall,” the Democrats’ bill said. “We know from history that walls do not work. As a result, this bill fails to adequately resource areas where we know there are significant threats, like our ports of entry and interior Border Patrol checkpoints.”

This summer, the House has struggled through a sluggish process to pass the annual appropriations bills needed to avert a government shutdown ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline. With a distinctively narrow majority, and only four GOP votes to spare on any contentious, party-line legislation, House Republicans have bulked up some of their spending bills with controversial language that all-but-guarantees universal Democratic opposition. 

Among the controversial proposals in the Homeland Security spending bill is a new provision prohibiting gender-affirming medication and surgeries for immigration detainees. The legislation also reduces funding for climate change initiatives and diversity efforts in the government’s homeland security agencies.

Trone, who is also seeking his party’s nomination in a 2024 Senate race, said the Democrats are strongly opposed to the proposals.

“Congress is dictating that we go backwards, not forward where everybody else wants to go,” Trone told CBS News. 

Some of the larger components of the bill have broader support, including funding to expand the hiring of thousands of border patrol agents and investments in new Coast Guard cutters. 

Even if House Republicans manage to secure sufficient votes to pass the homeland security spending bill, including the new investment in a border wall, the legislation is poised to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In a letter to colleagues last week, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer wrote, “When the Senate returns next week, our focus will be on funding the government and preventing House Republican extremists from forcing a government shutdown.”

The Senate returns Tuesday, facing the likelihood of a high-stakes, deadline-fueled standoff and negotiation with the House to prevent a shutdown.

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