PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Congress will move legislation this year providing up to $15 billion to build a wall along the Mexican boundary, Republican leaders said Thursday. But they would not say how they’d prevent the massive project from worsening federal deficits, and were meeting resistance from GOP lawmakers.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters at a GOP strategy retreat that they were planning legislation providing $12 billion to $15 billion for constructing the wall, one of President Donald Trump’s chief goals. Ryan said the goal is to complete that and other major bills in 2017, but the leaders offered no details on how the wall would be paid for, saying they would wait until the Trump administration proposes legislation.
Trump has repeatedly said Mexico will pay for the wall, but Mexico opposes it and has said it won’t finance it. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday canceled a planned meeting next week with Trump.
Congress will pay for “the construction of the physical barrier on the border,” Ryan said.
“We intend to address the wall issue ourselves,” said McConnell.
Pressed on whether construction would increase federal deficits, Ryan said Republicans are fiscal conservatives. He said strengthening the economy and replacing President Barack Obama’s health care system were two of the best ways to bolster the government’s budget.
“If we’re going to be spending on things like infrastructure, we’re going to find the fiscal space to pay for that” in a budget Congress plans to write this spring, Ryan said.
One influential GOP senator who’s clashed with Trump since last year’s campaign expressed likely opposition to the plan.
“I’m not inclined to support it,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters.
McCain said he’d await details from Trump’s Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly. He said such a plan should be “encompassing, it’s got to be coherent” with technology including drones.
“History shows you can tunnel under them, you can breach them,” McCain said of border fences.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., would not commit to approving the billions Trump is seeking.
“Look, I haven’t seen cost estimates, I don’t know what exactly he’s talking about,” Gardner told CNN on Thursday. He said making good on border security was “an issue of trust with the American people.”
Also objecting was Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, whose vast West Texas district runs along the Mexican border for 800 miles. Much of the state’s territory along its boundary with Mexico is privately owned and some is within Big Bend National Park.
“Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border,” Hurd said in a statement.
Hurd said it’s “impossible to build a physical wall” in much of his district’s terrain, saying to do so “would negatively impact the environment, private property rights and economy.”
Trump was to speak Thursday to House and Senate GOP lawmakers at their annual policy retreat.
Many Republicans would like to see a Trump committed to their agenda and results, not a president who veers off course into conspiracy theories about voter fraud or who keeps litigating the size of his inaugural crowds.
Lawmakers were generally enthusiastic to see Trump take quick action on immigration, oil pipelines and other issues via executive order, even though they criticized Barack Obama for overusing such administrative tools when he was president. This time, Republican lawmakers justify it by saying Trump, in many cases, is undoing what Obama did.
For the GOP conference, Trump was visiting a city that he has singled out and criticized for supposed voter fraud. And the mayor has pledged to protect immigrants who are in the country illegally, in face of Trump’s crackdown on “sanctuary cities.”
Lawmakers also were to hear from Vice President Mike Pence and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Associated Press writer Errin Haines Whack contributed to this report.