- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2017

The House approved $1.6 billion Thursday to fund the first installment of President Trump’s border wall, surmounting Democrats’ unanimous opposition and giving the White House a significant though potentially short-lived victory.

The money was attached to a massive security spending bill designed to fund the Pentagon and veterans’ needs, but the legislation now heads to the Senate, where Democrats have signaled that they will resist any money for the border wall. If they mount a filibuster, it would once again leave Mr. Trump and fellow Republicans facing the choice of removing money for the wall or careening into a shutdown showdown.

Funding for the border wall was added to the bill in a 230-196 vote. Five Republicans defected to join all Democrats in opposition. The broader security package then cleared on a 235-192 vote.

“Every single dime the president requested to start building a wall on our southern border, he’s going to get,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.

The money would cover 32 more miles of border fence in Texas, 28 miles of levee wall along the Rio Grande Valley, also in Texas, and 14 miles of replacement fence in San Diego.

Republican leaders added the money into the bill hoping Democrats would be willing to swallow it as part of a broader security package. But Republicans refused to allow a vote specifically on the wall and instead used an arcane process to add the money to the bill through an amendment to the rules governing the floor debate.

Democrats chided Republicans for hiding the vote and for leaving Americans to pick up the tab. They said that broke Mr. Trump’s promise during the campaign to make Mexico pay for the wall.

“Nary a peso from Mexico,” said Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter, New York Democrat.

Indeed, relations with Mexico have been strained by Mr. Trump’s promise, and he has struggled to follow through on the myriad ideas he suggested during the presidential campaign for how to soak Mexicans for the wall’s price tag.

“Donald Trump’s border wall is a massive waste of taxpayer money that will not make us safer,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. “Like many of the president’s policies, this initiative is rooted in nothing more than prejudice and fearmongering.”

Republicans insisted that the wall will help both sides of the border.

“A good fence or wall will make a good neighbor,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican.

The broader bill, which covers fiscal year 2018, pumps money into the Department of Veterans Affairs, funds congressional operations and marks a major boost in defense spending, which Mr. Trump has demanded.

The Pentagon increases, though, run afoul of the strict budget caps Congress and President Obama agreed to earlier this decade, giving Democrats in the Senate even more tools to derail the bill.

It was the border wall that drew the most attention, however.

Some 352 miles of the border already have fencing, and another 300 miles have barriers that can deter vehicles but still allow foot traffic.

Mr. Trump has given conflicting signals about how much of the border he thinks will need fencing, though he told reporters this month that perhaps only 700 miles will need a wall.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, though, has ruled out fencing along 130 miles of the 1,954-mile-long border. Those areas have enough natural barriers that traversing them is deemed too difficult to need enhancements.

The Texas and San Diego walls that Mr. Trump proposed are the most immediate needs, CBP said.

According to documents issued in the spring, contracting officials were hoping for a 50-foot wall that could withstand breaching attempts for up to four hours. The wall would also have to look physically imposing.

Mr. Trump has recently proposed installing solar panels on the wall to produce energy, which he said could help pay for the cost.

CBP is preparing to name finalists to construct prototypes this fall, ahead of construction in the next fiscal year.

Mr. Trump tried to get construction started this year and asked for money in the spending bill Congress was working on in the spring, but Democrats refused. Facing a government shutdown, Republicans largely retreated.

Republicans have insisted that they won’t be cowed the next time. Several said they would lead a filibuster if party leaders try to strip out funding for the wall.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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