GOP leaders will fork over at least $12 billion for border wall

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter

PHILADELPHIA — Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will authorize $12 billion to $15 billion for a wall spanning the entire U.S.-Mexico border as soon as Sept. 30, the Republican leaders said Thursday.

They would not say whether they would offset the costs of the wall — which President Trump repeatedly vowed would be paid for by Mexico — with budget cuts elsewhere or taxes. The comments came midway through the Republicans’ annual retreat, this year called “Congress of Tomorrow,” during which lawmakers are plotting the first 200 days of action on such issues as repealing and replacing Obamacare and reforming the tax code.

After Ryan was asked several times if he planned to offset the billions for the wall, the speaker said he would “wait and see” what the Trump administration proposed.

“I’m not going to get ahead of a policy and bill that has not been written yet,” Ryan told reporters.

When asked if the lawmakers were concerned about Trump’s relationship with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Ryan said, “I think it’ll be fine.” Two hours after Ryan’s comment, the Mexican president announced on Twitter that he was canceling his meeting with Trump next week.

Peña Nieto released a blistering video address on Twitter Wednesday, saying Mexico does not “believe” in walls. “I’ll say it again, Mexico will not pay for any wall,” he added.

Trump appeared to goad Peña Nieto into cancelling the meeting Thursday morning, saying it might be better for Peña Nieto to skip the trip if he didn’t plan to fund the wall.

“We intend to address the wall issue ourselves,” McConnell said. “The president can deal with his relations with other countries.”

In an interview with ABC News that aired Wednesday, Trump again claimed that Mexico would pay for the wall “in a form, … it may be a complicated form.” He did not elaborate.

Trump signed an executive order Wednesday saying it was his administration’s policy to immediately begin the wall’s construction. But the text of the order defines a wall as a “contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous and impassable physical barrier.” That leaves open the possibility that the “wall” could resemble existing fencing.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the GOP retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 26, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

Nearly 700 miles of the southern border is already fenced off, thanks to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which garnered bipartisan support. (Ryan pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer voted for it.) One analysis suggests building an entirely new wall would cost $40 billion, far more than the $15 billion McConnell and Ryan are talking about.

Ryan never used the word “wall” during his brief press conference with reporters, instead describing the barrier as a fulfillment of the Secure Fence Act.

Trump described the wall he envisioned as “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful” during the campaign, at one time saying it should be 55 feet tall. Trump also claimed that there was “a BIG difference” between a “wall” and a “fence.”  It’s unclear if that’s what Congress has in mind.

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