On Saturday, President Donald Trump again made the case for his wall by pointing out Democrats once supported new fencing and barriers along the southern border.
“Many of these security ideas have been proposed by Democrats themselves,” Trump said in the speech. “And all of them have been supported by Democrats in the past, including a physical barrier, wall or fence.”
On this point, Trump is right. Many Democrats have historically supported new border barriers.
In 2006, 90 Democrats voted to authorize $1.4 billion for 700 miles of fencing along the southern border. And every Senate Democrat voted to authorize $7.5 billion for an additional 700 miles of fencing in 2013. (The money was authorized to “deploy, repair or replace” fencing, and roughly 350 miles would have been redundant fencing).
Thirty-five of the Democrats who voted for additional fencing in 2013 remain in the Senate today, including two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats. But most now oppose Trump’s request of $5.7 billion for 234 miles of new steel barriers. Democrats have offered Trump $1.3 billion to reinforce existing southern border barriers.
In 2006, then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, voted for new fencing, touting it as a mechanism for “better security along our borders.” Ten years later, he dismissed Trump’s proposed wall, saying it is “something that is not thought through and is primarily put forward for political consumption.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, suggested she would support a fence along the entire Mexican border in 2006. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, offered an amendment to the 2013 Senate immigration bill that would have required fencing to be made with iron, steel and manufactured goods produced in the United States. (The amendment failed, but Brown voted for the 2013 bill).
And speaking at a Rotary Club in South Carolina in 2006, then-Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, called for fencing to stop drugs flowing across “corrupt Mexico.”
“I voted unlike most Democrats — and some of you won’t like it — I voted for 700 miles of fence,” Biden said. “People are driving across that border with tons, tons — hear me — tons of everything from byproducts for methamphetamine to cocaine to heroin. And it’s all coming up through corrupt Mexico.”
Trump has pointed to comments like these to suggest Democrats are blocking his wall for purely political reasons. But some conditions at the southern border are different today than in years past.
Illegal border crossings are near-record lows and many migrants arriving at the border today are family units. (Then, as now, the majority of illegal drugs smuggled into the United States come through legal ports of entry.)
And the “crisis” Trump points to at the border is partly of his own making. His administration has tightened asylum rules, pushed to detain migrants indefinitely, despite limited detention space, and rejected calls for more immigration judges to deal with a record case backlog.
Trump also has regularly contradicted himself on what the wall would be and how much it would cost.
There “could be some fencing,” Trump told “60 Minutes” in 2016. Two months later, Trump told reporters: “It’s not a fence, it’s a wall.”
It would be made of “hardened concrete,” Trump said in 2015. Then it would be a series of “steel slats.”
Trump has proposed no fewer than 13 ways Mexico would pay for the wall, even as his 2019 budget requested $1.6 billion from Congress for wall construction. Months later, he shut down the government when Congress refused to give him $5 billion.
It is worth noting, too, that many Republicans did not support Trump’s plan for a wall even after Trump won the presidency. And Trump once criticized the Secure Fence Act he now mocks Democrats for once supporting.
“It was such a little wall,” Trump said on Fox in August 2016, “it was such a nothing wall.”