WASHINGTON — A border security compromise that Congress hopes to produce doesn’t have to include the word “wall,” the top House Republican said Tuesday, signaling a rhetorical retreat from a term that President Donald Trump made a keystone of his presidential campaign.
The remark by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., came a day before Republican and Democratic congressional bargainers begin meetings aimed at striking a deal on a border security package. It was the latest sign that both sides are suggesting flexibility and trying to look reasonable as talks begin.
“It could be barrier. It doesn’t have to be a wall,” McCarthy told reporters.
Trump’s demand that lawmakers provide $5.7 billion to build segments of his prized wall along the border with Mexico prompted the just-ended 35-day partial federal shutdown. The government reopened Monday for three weeks, giving the administration and Congress more time to craft a border security compromise.
Trump has threatened to renew the shutdown if no accord is reached or to declare a national emergency, which he says would let him snatch money from other budget accounts to begin construction. Most Republicans say they’d oppose a second shutdown, and many lawmakers from both parties say an emergency declaration in this instance would be an overreach of his powers.
In recent weeks, Trump has veered between using the terms “wall” or “barrier.” He’s retreated increasingly from “wall” as it became apparent that he lacked the votes in Congress to win taxpayer financing for the project, which he initially said would be financed by Mexico.
His descriptions of how it would be constructed have also changed, with early references to concrete more recently evolving into a structure using steel slats.
McCarthy said wall and barrier mean the same thing to him and Trump.
“Inside the meetings we’ve had, he’s said it could be a barrier, it could be a wall,” said McCarthy. “Because what a barrier does, it’s still the same thing. It’s the 30-foot steel slat, that’s a barrier.”
Democrats have opposed providing money to build the wall. But they’ve left the door open to providing money for physical barriers of some sort, along with scanning equipment and more border patrol personnel and immigration judges.
“There are many kinds of walls and so I think that we’re going to try to find common ground,” No. 3 House Democratic leader James Clyburn of South Carolina said in a brief interview.
“Right now we have existing fencing, barriers, levees at different points,” said Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, another member of the Democratic House leadership. “But what we aren’t going to do is use taxpayer money to fund a political applause line.”