While President Donald Trump has repeatedly made clear his desire to build hundreds of miles of wall along the Mexican border since early in his campaign for President, the GOP Congress never really came close to approving billions of dollars for the wall, though there were certainly opportunities for Republicans at several points to win as much as $25 billion for the border while the GOP was in charge of Congress in 2017 and 2018 – but those efforts failed as most GOP lawmakers backed away from possible bipartisan immigration compromises.
As Republicans worked on two years of spending bills during the time that the GOP controlled the Congress under President Trump, lawmakers twice approved $1.6 billion for border security – but only for fencing and other defenses – not for the wall which was a central part of the President’s campaign.
Here’s a look at what the President asked for – and what the Congress did.
1. Trump 2017 and 2018 budgets. President Trump’s first budget, unveiled in May 2017, had money specifically designated ‘to construct a physical wall along the southern border,’ as part of a $2.6 billion border security plan, which included extra border patrol and immigration agents. In the President’s second budget plan issued in February of 2018, the Trump Administration again had what the White House labeled “critical investments” in border security to combat illegal immigration, budget plans which included “$1.6 billion for construction of the border wall.” President Trump wanted much more for the wall, but even his budget plans which were sent to Congress didn’t come close to the $5.7 billion he is requesting now, during this partial government shutdown fight.
2. Republicans ignore the wall in two Omnibus spending plans. Just like is happening now in early 2019, the Congress took well into 2017 and 2018 to finish their budget work (which should have done by the previous October). In both of those budgets, Republicans in the Congress approved money for border security – like fencing – but not a wall. For example, in May 2017, the GOP Congress okayed $341 million “to replace approximately 40 miles of existing primary pedestrian and vehicle border fencing along the southwest border.” In the 2018 Omnibus, which was voted on in late March of 2018, the President received the more specific approval of nearly $1.6 billion in fencing and border barriers. You can see the list of projects below. Again – none of that is for a ‘border wall.’
3. Immigration reform efforts run aground in Senate. In February of 2018, the Senate capped off an acrimonious several weeks of debate and negotiation with the President by defeating four different immigration plans. The one offered by GOP Senators with the most money for the border wall – $25 billion – received just 39 votes, the least amount of support of any of the immigration packages voted on by Senators. There was also a bipartisan immigration plan which included $25 billion for border security, paired with a 10-12 year pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrant “Dreamers.” That plan received 54 votes, but short of the 60 needed. Republicans and the President could have secured funding for the President’s wall with this plan, backed by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) – but it was opposed by most GOP Senators because of the DACA provisions. No compromise – no wall.
4. President talks as if he’s already secured wall funding. Throughout all of the battles in the House and Senate over immigration in 2017 and 2018, President Trump repeatedly made comments in public which would lead his supporters to believe that his administration was already building new sections of wall, when in fact, the money approved by Congress had gone to repair earlier walls, and to deploy new fencing – but not any of the wall he had proposed in the 2016 campaign. “Not happy with $1.6 billion, but it does start the wall,” the President said when he signed the Omnibus in March 2018. “Just so you understand, we have $1.6 billion,” the President said in April. “We have $1.6 billion, and we're starting brand-new sections of walls. But we need to have a wall that's about 800 miles,” Mr. Trump added. Even on Twitter, while the Congress never gave him any money for new sections of wall along the border, the President made things look different on the wall.
5. Senate looks to repeat the $1.6 billion for 2019. In developing spending bills for 2019, the Senate Appropriations Committee – controlled by the Republican Party – put together a homeland security funding measure which kept the amount of money for border security at $1.6 billion, the same level okayed by the Omnibus funding bill which Congress approved in March of 2018. In the funding bill for border security efforts in 2019, there is no mention of a border wall in the Senate plan, but there is a very specific mention that the $1.6 billion “shall be available for approximately 65 miles of pedestrian fencing” on the southwest border, in the Rio Grande River sector in Texas. This Homeland Security Appropriations bill was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote, either before or after the 2018 elections.
6. House bill advertises wall funding – but gives few details. As the House Appropriations Committee rolled out its version of the Homeland Security funding bill for 2019, the GOP headline was that Republicans were giving the President nearly $5 billion for his wall. President Trump was very happy, as on July 18 he tweeted his thanks to Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), who was in charge of the homeland security funding measure. But there was one puzzling part about this GOP bill – if you actually read the text of the legislative language and/or the report language for the bill, there is no actual mention of a wall. Instead, in debate, fencing was referred to more than anything else. As you can see here, there’s no mention of a wall in the text of the bill put forward by House Republicans in the summer of 2018.
7. No wall vote until after the November elections. Even as the President was still pushing for money for the border wall, Republicans in the House and Senate were ready to wrap up work for the year without addressing the wall issue. The Senate had approved a stop gap funding bill to February 8, 2019 – and many Senators headed home on December 19 and 20, thinking their work was over. But then, the House cobbled together a bill which combined $5.7 billion for border security with almost $8 billion in disaster relief for hurricane damage in Florida and Georgia, along with help for wildfire victims in California. But even as the House approved that measure – as with previous House bills on the border – there was no direct mention of a border wall, just an overall amount of money that Republicans wanted to spend on border security.
8. The House GOP plan leads to a shutdown standoff. GOP leaders had shied away from forcing a vote on money for the border wall in the House throughout 2017 and 2018, convinced the votes were not there among Republicans. But in the final days before Christmas, GOP leaders – at the urging of the President – rolled the dice, and won a majority. But the bill never received a vote in the Senate before the start of the new Congress, because it certainly was not going to get the 60 votes it needed to get past a certain filibuster by Democrats. Once Democrats took control of the House on January 3 for the 116th Congress, it was back to square one. The partial government shutdown began on December 22 – 800,000 federal workers missed their first paycheck on January 11 – and this fight seems to have no end in sight.
While the President says he wants $5.7 billion for the border wall now that Congress is divided between the two parties, he wasn’t able to get any money at all for the wall when Republicans were in charge in 2017 and 2018.
And that makes it much more difficult to see how he gets the money in 2019, when the Congress is divided between Democrats and Republicans.