GOP, Dem Lawmakers Differ on Trump Border Fight

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Republican lawmakers last night stood fast with President Donald Trump as he pressed his case for security funding, including $5.7 billion for a border wall, while Democrats called for Trump and his fellow Republicans to end the partial government shutdown.

Trump, in his nationally televised remarks, described the “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border” as “a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.”

He largely sought to paint the issue in the context of those he characterized as its victims, including children used as pawns by “vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs,” an alleged one out of three women who are raped, those suffering from drugs illegally smuggled into the country and illegal immigrants who commit crimes or simply take jobs and drive down wages.

“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” the president said.

“If not now, then when?” asked U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, in a statement following the president’s address. Johnson stands with Trump in his call for 234 miles of steel barrier “to stop crime, drugs, and violence from coming across the border and into the United States,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve reached this point with a partial government shutdown, but playing politics with our nation’s security and the safety of the American people is very irresponsible. Therefore, I urge House and Senate Democrats to stop the political games, and get serious about securing America’s southern border,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-3 Pa., said Trump showed “strong leadership” and shared “the harsh truth about the crisis at our southern border and the real consequences of illegal immigration,” making the case directly to the American people.

“A sovereign nation has a right to secure its borders,” he said. “It is clear to me and to most Americans that constructing a wall along portions of our southern border is not only justifiable but long overdue.”

Kelly pointed to the recent murder of police officer Ronil Singh in California by an illegal immigrant gang member as “just the latest example of why an intrusion-stopping wall is so necessary.

“To be very clear: there is nothing controversial about enhancing our security by building a border wall—there are currently 700 miles of border barrier already in place along our southern border. As a candidate, President Trump passionately campaigned on this issue and won,” he said.

During a conference call Tuesday before Trump’s speech, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman called for finding “a way forward” on immigration that would require compromise on both sides, but acknowledged his conversations have mostly been with his Republican colleagues.

“I’m not having much success talking with my Democratic colleagues right now. There’s not the kind of interest we need to see in a compromise on both sides,” Portman said. “Hopefully we can have a breakthrough this week.”

Portman, R-Ohio, said he is looking at reintroducing legislation that would provide additional money for enhanced border security in exchange for protections for immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

A secure border is important not only with regard to immigration but related to the drug issue, he continued. In addition to funding for more fencing and “other physical barriers,” and resources such as drones, better screening of vehicles at the border is required to prevent not only illegal immigrants but drugs such as heroin and crystal methamphetamine from coming into the country.

The southern border is the source of “the bulk of drugs” coming into the country, Portman said, though according the Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2018 Drug Threat Assessment Report, the vast majority of drugs entering the United States do so through ports of entry, either in passenger vehicles or hidden in international shipments of other products, not via people crossing the border illegally.

“The bottom line is we have to figure out a way to find common ground,” he said. “I don’t think we’re that far apart. A lot of this is politics. A lot of this is people talking past each other.”

Portman acknowledged he isn’t a fan of government shutdowns. “I don’t think they work well for the taxpayers. It’s an inefficient way to operate government,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called on the president to reopen the government and get people back to work immediately. He cited the funding bill that the Senate passed before the holidays that the White House indicated it would support to provide short-term funding for the government until Trump changed his mind and said he would be proud to shut down the government for border security.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a similar measure to fund and reopen the government, which the Senate has not taken up.

Earlier in the day, Brown met with Transportation Security Administration workers at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, who are working without pay due to the government shutdown, and food service workers who work in the Smithsonian museums and at federal agencies in our nation’s capital and are furloughed.

“President Trump is taking paychecks away from thousands of American workers and throwing families into crisis every day he refuses to reopen the government,” Brown said. “The president must end his shutdown and put Americans back to work.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, who Tuesday morning highlighted the impact of the shutdown on workers at the Federal Correctional Institution Elkton, said Trump was “only concerned with stoking fear in the American people.”

The president’s focus should be on reopening the government as hundreds of thousands of federal workers face the “grim reality” of not receiving paychecks this week, Ryan said in a statement following the president’s address.

“Devoid of any facts, the president continues to tout the lie that a wall is the only way to secure our border. It’s not,” he said. “In an era of advanced surveillance technologies and capabilities, a wall is laughably outdated. It’s like saying we want Model T cars, glider planes or rotary phones back.”

Outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich called for compromise between Trump, with whom he has repeatedly clashed, and Democrats, starting with the president being “more flexible” in terms of his goals. He called for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a guest worker program, an economic and security program that will allow people to stay in their home country, addresses the humanitarian crisis and secures the border.

“People are going to start hurting from the government shutdown because of partisan politics,” the Ohio Republican said. “Border security is important, but both sides should be willing to negotiate on how we do it. Our country needs real leadership to solve our problems. Right now it doesn’t look like that leadership exists in Washington, D.C.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.