Rep. Martha McSally and other Congress members gather on Bisbee rancher John Ladd’s land to discuss border security.
Joe Ferguson / Arizona Daily Star

1 hour ago • By Joe Ferguson

BISBEE — Nearly two dozen Congress members toured an area between Nogales and Douglas Saturday, and several said later they are confident a billion-dollar-a-year bill aimed at securing the border will pass.

The tour included discussions with local politicians, ranchers and law enforcement agents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, and Chief of the Border Patrol Michael Fisher.

The bill’s author, Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, said he is confident it will easily pass in the House despite criticism from Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, the Border Patrol union and some congressional Democrats.

“This will be the strongest-ever border bill ever passed by Congress,” McCaul said proudly, saying he hopes the House will start debating the bill on Wednesday. He spoke at a news conference before a backdrop of several cattle grazing on Bisbee rancher John Ladd‘s 14,000-acre property.

Johnson said last week that the Republican-led proposal is “unworkable” and would make the border less secure.

McCaul brushed aside the criticism. “We gave the department time to get this done and they have not gotten the job done,” he said. “The reason why they don’t like my bill and the unions don’t like my bills is that we tell them how to get it done.”

McCaul predicted that opposition from the Border Patrol union would only galvanize support for his bill.

Southern Arizona Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally said the legislation would give officials the tools they need to secure the border.

McSally authored an amendment to the bill that would increase the number of Border Patrol agents working in forward operating bases or near the international border.

The tour included some Democrats, including Arizona Rep. Krysten Sinema. Tucson Democrat Raúl Grijalva, whose congressional district also borders Mexico, was critical of the “paper thin” tour and did not participate. Grijalva said his peers only spoke to a handful of people living in Southern Arizona, which he called insufficient to understand the complex problems along the border.

Republican Rep. Brian Babin of Texas disagreed, saying he learned a lot in his talks with locals.

Babin pinned a lack of progress on securing the border on politics, saying Congress has historically lacked the political courage to tackle what he calls a national security issue. “There is not enough personnel. I don’t think the assets are down here at the border where they need to be,” he said of what he saw on the tour.

“For the first time in a while we have the House under Republican control, we have the Senate under Republican control,” Babin noted.

He said that while there is a threat of a presidential veto of the legislation if it passes both chambers, there is a possibility there are enough votes for a congressional override. He and McCaul did not provide any details of how many votes they believe have been lined up for the bill.

Rancher Ladd was also optimistic about the bill’s chances, saying that while he has hosted other members of Congress in the past he has never had so many interested in fixing problems at the border before.