Senate Democrats on Wednesday killed an amendment to President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that would have blocked the federal government from canceling contracts for the construction of a physical barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a 49-48 vote, lawmakers rejected the proposal offered by Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and a former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
“My amendment is very common sense. It just says ‘Complete the wall that we’ve already contracted for.’ The dollars will be spent regardless. The dollars will be completely wasted and no wall built whatsoever,” said Mr. Johnson. “The American taxpayer needs to understand they will be on the hook for billions of dollars, tens of thousands of tons of steel that’s already been produced, all that waste.”
Mr. Johnson argued the amendment was needed because “securing the border has become a partisan issue.”
Since taking office, the White House has been pressured by progressives and immigrant-rights groups to end border wall construction. Last month, Mr. Biden gave in to the demands, canceling two border wall contracts in Texas.
The administration said the projects were “not necessary to address any life, safety, environmental, or other remediation requirements.”
In announcing the decision, the White House also pledged it would push “to cancel remaining border wall funding” in favor of “smarter” security measures relying on technology.
Mr. Biden’s decision came even as illegal migrant crossings on the southern border have exploded into a full-blown crisis. In July alone, immigration officials encountered nearly 6,000 migrants a day attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. Overall, more than 188,000 illegal migrants were apprehended last month, according to Customs and Border Protection.
“This crisis is out of control, but this crisis is also man-made. It’s a man-made crisis by President Biden’s policies. If there’s one thing that we should be bipartisan about, it’s national security,” said Mr. Johnson. “Part and parcel to securing our homeland is having a secure border.”
Senate Democrats, however, did not agree.
Mr. Johnson’s amendment, which needed at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, failed in a near party-line vote. The only Democrat to back the measure was Sen. Joe Manchin III, a moderate from West Virginia.
Most Democrats who opposed the amendment argue a border wall is unneeded to deter illegal immigration and that former President Donald Trump improperly directed federal funding from other programs to pay for its construction.
“This measure would force continued payment of government contractors to build an ill-conceived border wall,” said Sen. Gary Peters, Michigan Democrat and Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman. “Most of these funds were never intended for this purpose.”
The fight over the border wall amendment comes as the Senate continues to debate the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. To date, only minor amendments have been adopted as Democratic and GOP leaders negotiate over how long it will take to pass the package.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is pushing for an expedited timeline, with a final vote sometime this weekend. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, though, is pushing for robust debate with numerous amendments.
“This is an extremely important bipartisan bill,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, when urging for an expanded timeline. “There’s an excellent chance that it will be a bipartisan success story for the country.”