The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump wants his wall. Texas politicians, even some Republicans, are skeptical.

President Trump arrives at the U.S. Capitol to talk to Republicans on Wednesday. He is due to travel to the border in Texas on Thursday to press his case for the border wall. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As President Trump heads to Texas to continue making his case for a wall along the Mexican border, he is facing mounting skepticism from those who would be affected the most.

Nearly every state and federal official who represents a district along the border is opposed to his plan. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, this week said he opposes an emergency declaration to build the wall. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex), whose district includes 820 miles along the border, has repeatedly spoken out and voted against it. Dennis Nixon, a bank executive from Laredo who was a top Trump donor, has published a lengthy rebuttal to Trump’s desire for a wall.

When the Texas legislature reconvened this week for the first time in a year and a half, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) delivered a speech outlining proposals to cut taxes, address education funding, and improve school safety. He, as well as other top state officials, did not mention border security, the issue that Trump says may be so dire that a national emergency needs to be declared.

“Quite frankly I think the folks in Washington, D.C., are out of touch with what’s going on at the border,” said State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, a Democrat who represents the area where Trump will be touring Thursday.

“They come down, they do a photo op in a patrol boat or helicopter,” he added. “The Democrats point the finger at Republicans, the Republicans point the finger at Democrats. And then they leave — they leave us with the problem. It’s just a total circus.”

The debate playing out in Texas, the state with the longest border with Mexico, is more nuanced than the one taking place in Washington, with points of view that differ between the border area — and statewide politicians who have to take its voters into consideration — and more sharply Republican areas.

Many in Texas, including Democrats, say that much more needs to be done along the border. More Border Patrol officers should be added. Technology such as drones and cameras should be used. (Those components have also been pushed by Democrats in Washington who opposed the wall.)

With a partial wall near their homes, three neighbors in Penitas, Tex., react to President Trump’s call to expand the barrier on the Mexican border. (Video: Drea Cornejo, Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)

“The immigration system is completely broken, but the wall is not the answer,” Hinojosa said. “There’s a lack of common sense in building this wall. Some of the barriers are needed. But you can’t just build a wall like in China from Brownsville [Tex.] to San Diego.”

Trump has often talked about the need for a physical wall, one that he wants to be 30 feet tall and run along the border. “Build the Wall” was the chant that defined his presidential campaign, and the pledge that he would force Mexico to pay for it drew howls of appreciation from his supporters.

“It’s not a fence, it’s a wall,” he chided reporters just before being sworn into office in 2017.

But few in Texas — even among Republicans — go that far, preferring milder words such as “physical barrier” or “fence” instead.

“Only in D.C. is the terminology important,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) said in an interview. “Call it a wall, call it a fence, call it what you want. What do we need to do to reclaim operational control over the border? But it needs to be a strong enough physical barrier that it is impossible to climb or cut through. To stick with the president’s terminology, a wall is fine.”

“For those who say fences don’t work I say go look at nuclear sites, go look at the White House, go look at your own property, look at the dawn of time,” he added. “Fences do their work.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) mocked the terminology during a recent interview.

“I know the Democrats are hung up on calling it a wall, but I don’t care if they call it a gender-neutral palisade or a linear monument to climate change,” Brady, the top Republican member on the House Ways and Means Committee, said on Fox News. “In truth, we need more resources for border security.”

There are complications to building a wall along the Texas border. The topography is challenging. A river adds additional issues. And unlike in Arizona and New Mexico, most of the land along the Texas border is privately owned, so building any structure would require taking it by eminent domain.

Litigation is still pending on behalf of some of those from whom land was taken after President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act in 2006.

“Border security is three things: It is barriers in places that are hard to control, it is technology, ground sensors, radar, drones and other technological devices used to supplement the barriers, and then it’s people,” Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said this week on Fox News. “It really is a combination of those three, and there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for the entire border. It’s quite a diverse geography.”

Abbott, in a statement to The Post, emphasized that the state has spent billions on border security. But he did not forcefully demand a border wall.

“A wall already exists on parts of the Texas border. I am hearing the same thing the President is hearing not only from law enforcement officials, but also from those who live on the border, and that is barriers work,” Abbott said. “Texans are tired of the empty rhetoric from Congress. They want action, and they want a secure border.”

Hurd, the only congressional Republican who represents a border district, is also the only Republican from Texas who has spoken out against Trump.

After Trump argued in his prime-time address Tuesday that the border was rife with crime, Hurd said border areas are “some of the safest communities in the United States of America,” and not “some scary drug cartel movie back in the day.”

“Building a 30-foot high concrete structure from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security,” Hurd said on CNN. He also urged Trump to reopen the government so that Border Patrol agents can start receiving paychecks.

“If this is a crisis,” he said, “the people dealing with this crisis should get paid.”

Most Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation, whose districts can be hundreds of miles from the border, support Trump even if they don’t all call for a wall.

Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Tex.), a newly elected congressman from the Dallas suburbs, is wholly supportive of Trump and says he trusts him to do whatever it takes to secure the border wall funding.

“Republicans are dug in, Democrats are dug in,” he said. “It would thrill me if the president said to hell with Congress on this issue, we’re going to declare an emergency and do this ourselves if the Democrats don’t want to deal with us in good faith.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) has also not dismissed Trump’s option of using emergency powers to build the wall.

“I think that would be a last resort for him, and that’s something his lawyers are looking at right now,” he said. “It is an emergency crisis, in my judgment, at the border.”

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), a newly elected member of Congress from the Houston suburbs who is a former Navy SEAL, has forcefully backed the president’s proposal.

“I know from my experience as a Navy SEAL that barriers work,” he said in a statement. “Democrats’ argument that a wall is ineffective is not based on reason or fact, but on partisanship.”