William Barr, President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, said in a decades-old interview on PBS that it would be “overkill” to build a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a 1992 interview on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS, Barr, who was then serving as attorney general under President George H.W.Bush, told host Jim Lehrer that he disagreed with a proposal to build a barrier along the border. The idea was being floated at the time by Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.
“I don’t think it’s necessary. I think that’s overkill to put a barrier from one side of the border to the other,” Barr said in the interview.
“The problem with illegal immigration across the border is really confined to major metropolitan areas,” he added. “Illegal immigrants do not cross in the middle of the desert and walk hundreds of miles” to live in the U.S.
Building a border wall is a top priority for President Donald Trump, who made the issue the center of funding fight that led to the partial government shutdown. Trump has demanded that a deal to reopen the government include funding for a border wall, a plan House and Senate Democrats oppose.
A Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment on Barr’s remarks, but pointed to another interview Barr gave in 1992 during his tenure as attorney general where he struck a different tone on immigration and border security.
In that interview, with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Barr said that barriers along the border could be “very effective both in impeding narcotics and illegal aliens coming across.”
Trump nominated Barr to serve as attorney general last month. Barr would replace Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who took over at the Justice Department after Jeff Sessions was fired in November.
The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Wednesday that it would hold a confirmation hearing for Barr on Jan. 15 and 16. If confirmed, he would likely play a key role in helping shape the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ first name.