Centrist GOP lawmakers push back against border wall funding

Two House Republicans want to water down plans to include funds to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall promised by President Trump in the spending package slated for a floor vote this week.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), whose district includes the largest section of the Mexican border of any House member, has long said building the wall would be impractical and ineffective.

House GOP leaders plan to add $1.6 billion to the spending package to begin construction on the border wall. The legislation will likely be blocked by Democrats in the Senate, but will serve as an opening salvo for the debate in September to avoid a government shutdown this fall.

Hurd has submitted an amendment that would prevent the use of funds to build any physical barriers, including walls or fences, along the border until the secretary of Homeland Security submits a comprehensive border security strategy to Congress.

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Under Hurd’s amendment, the report would need to provide a justification for using a more expensive type of physical barrier or tool, as well as a cost estimate for protecting each mile of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) is so far the only other Republican to sign on to Hurd’s amendment. Like Hurd, Fitzpatrick is part of the House GOP’s centrist faction that represents a district expected to be targeted by Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.

Three Texas Democrats who also represent districts along the U.S.-Mexico border have endorsed Hurd’s proposal: Reps. Vicente González, Henry Cuellar and Beto O’Rourke.

Rep. Filemon Vela (Texas), another border-district Democrat, told The Hill Tuesday he would not support Hurd's amendment because it lays out a path through which a border wall could eventually be funded.

"It's too much of a middle ground," said Vela.

But O'Rourke, who along with Vela has been one of the strongest opponents of the wall, said he would support any amendment opposing the wall, including Hurd's.

"It asks all the right questions," said O'Rourke, who is running for Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Pro-Trump super PAC raises .5 million in 6 weeks Trump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform MORE's (R-Texas) seat in 2018. 

A spokeswoman for Hurd didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

The House Rules Committee is meeting Tuesday to determine which of the more than 300 amendments submitted to the spending package will be allowed votes on the floor.

The Rules panel is controlled by the majority party leadership and determines how legislation is considered by the full House.

All of the Republicans who represent part of the U.S.-Mexico border have expressed skepticism about building the wall as proposed by Trump. Like Hurd, Reps. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) have said the wall would be ineffective.

Pearce’s district is the only one along the Mexican border that Trump won in November.

In a statement back in January after Trump issued an executive order directing agencies to begin construction of the wall, Hurd said that it would be “the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”

“Each section of the border faces unique geographical, cultural, and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the agents on the ground with the resources they need,” Hurd said at the time.

The $1.6 billion for the border wall is expected to be added to the spending bill by the Rules Committee.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of Homeland Security, has submitted an amendment allocating the $1.6 billion specifically for physical barriers in the Rio Grande Valley and in San Diego. It reflects the amount included in a Homeland Security spending bill advanced by the House Appropriations Committee last week.

The Rules Committee could grant Carter’s amendment a vote on the assumption it would be adopted on the floor. But the Rules panel could also decide to unilaterally include the amendment in the spending package before it hits the floor, which means there wouldn’t be a standalone vote on wall funding.

—Rafael Bernal contributed.