Since the government shutdown 25 days ago, Republicans have largely defended the need for a border wall. While there appear to be some cracks in support, most are standing by the president’s insistence on funding.
Congressional Republicans were not always so bullish on Trump’s wall. In fact, before they were defending the government shutdown in the name of border security, some thought it was a pretty bad investment.
As recently as September, The Washington Post described it this way:
The same Republican lawmakers who rushed through the tax bill Trump wanted, confirmed his first Supreme Court pick and are fighting to defend his second, and have remained largely deferential amid multiple scandals, have taken a far different approach when it comes to one of Trump’s most memorable campaign promises — deeming the wall to be impractical, unrealistic and too costly.
Most GOP lawmakers didn’t come right out and say that, of course.
Instead, for the first two years of Trump’s presidency, GOP lawmakers avoided the wall debate completely. In September 2017, USA Today took on the laborious task of surveying every member of Congress to determine their position on Trump’s wall. At the time, the White House was requesting $1.6 billion to begin wall construction. The survey found that just 69 of the 292 Republicans in Congress said they supported Trump’s funding request. Three outright opposed it, but the majority avoided answering the question directly.
In their two years in control of Congress, Republicans did not prioritize Trump’s border wall. They approved $1.6 billion for border security projects for fiscal 2018, but only a fraction of that was to be used for construction of a wall. They were willing to kick in another $1.6 billion for fiscal 2019, a fraction of what the project could ultimately cost.
Republicans largely support enhancing border security with more patrol agents and technology. But few saw the merits in a wall along the southern border. “People can climb over the wall or go under the wall or through the wall. We’ve seen that in different places,” Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, told The Post in September.
Then, Trump set up the wall funding as a battle between the White House and Democratic leaders, and Republicans were forced to pick sides. The options were either to buck Trump and side with Democrats in rejecting his demand for $5.7 billion or to stand by Trump and allow the government to shut down.
More Americans oppose building a wall (54 percent) than support it (42 percent), according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. But when broken down by political party, 87 percent of Republicans support the wall. Numbers like that put Republican lawmakers in a difficult position.
Of course, what defines a “wall” has changed dramatically since the 2016 election and could be how Republicans justify their shifting support. What Trump promised supporters then was a Mexico-funded solid concrete structure from sea to shining sea. Now, Trump has conceded that steel slats in places along the border where it makes sense is what he meant.
Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Trump’s onetime nemesis turned close ally, told Politico that “the border wall is probably not a smart investment.”
But in December, shortly after the government shut down, Graham had a different interpretation that could shield Republicans in both directions.
“The wall,” Graham told reporters outside the White House, “has become a metaphor for border security.”