House Democrat: ‘Pelosi lied’ about border wall funding in omnibus

April 27, 2018 12:00 AM

A House Democrat who represents a district along the southwest border in Texas is accusing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., of lying last month when she said Democrats restricted funding for new border barriers to “see-through fencing” in the omnibus spending package.
Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, is targeting Pelosi on the issue.

In March, lawmakers approved $1.6 billion for border security, including more than $400 million for 25 miles of “levee fencing” along the border in the Rio Grande Valley. Democratic leaders, including Pelosi, declared it a victory for Democrats because President Trump wouldn’t get the “great beautiful” border wall he promised voters on the campaign trail.

“Democrats won explicit language restricting border construction to the same see-through fencing that was already authorized under current law,” Pelosi said in a statement after the deal was announced.

On Wednesday, Vela questioned Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan about the language. McAleenan said in a hearing before a House Homeland security subcommittee that the 25-mile new levee barrier would not be “see-through.”

After congressional testimony from McAleenan, Vela made the accusation that the leader of his own party caucus isn’t telling the truth about levee barriers along the border.

“Pelosi lied,” Vela told the Washington Examiner after the hearing.
Vela then read Pelosi's statement saying that new funding would go only to the type of barriers authorized under current law and not to a wall. "That was a lie," he concluded.

The language in the omnibus approves “$445,000,000 for 25 miles of primary pedestrian levee fencing along the southwest border in the Rio Grande Valley Sector.”

There’s another $445 million for the replacement of existing walls, which is separate from the $445 million for “brand new concrete levee walls,” Vela said.

“When we were passing the omnibus she said that all we were doing was funding see-through fencing — it’s just not true,” he said.

“Basically Trump’s getting what he wants, at least for these 25 miles he’s getting concrete wall,” Vela said, who is a staunch opponent of any funding for border barriers, even fencing. “It’s disingenuous for Democratic leadership to say they’re against the wall when they actually supported this kind of funding for a concrete barrier.”

A Pelosi aide disputed that anyone was hiding the ball. Democratic leaders said all along that levee walls were funded, said Drew Hammill. A “levee is a concrete barrier the same height as the current earthen barrier,” he said.

After the omnibus passed, it was reported that funding would go toward new and replacement levee walls. Dirt embankments run along the entire Rio Grande border and some of it is already buttressed by concrete levee walls.

In his testimony, McAleenan said that the newly funded barriers set to be constructed in stretches of the border along the Rio Grande Valley are based on 2008 models in different areas along the border.

“That is actually not see through because it’s a concrete wall that helps protect the levee, it’s a hydraulic wall and that’s consistent with appropriations language,” McAleenan said during a hearing on the future of the CBP.

Still, the squabble among Democrats highlights just how contentious border and immigration issues have become. Trump made construction of a border wall a central promise of his election campaign. Democrats, mindful of their political base's opposition to a wall, vowed never to fund it. Now with barrier construction ongoing, Republicans and Democrats are rushing to define every new project as a win.

Republican leaders and the White House were eager to boast about barrier funding in the omnibus, but conservatives scoffed, saying the bill didn’t fund the border wall.

And for some Democrats, the frustration of watching Congress fund ongoing construction while so-called Dreamers are left without legal status has opened up fights over what defines a border wall and what does not.

Environmentalists and Vela argue that the concrete levee wall approved by the omnibus would not protect the levees against flooding.

“All of those levees that would be turned into border walls were just repaired a few years ago, so they’re essentially brand new,” said Scott Nicol, a co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Border Lands team.

The levees are tall piles of dirt, according to Nicol, man-made embankments designed to prevent flooding.

When built, the levee wall would run on the U.S.-facing side, but it would “do absolutely nothing” for flood control, said Nicol.

“It would literally be concrete,” he said of the barrier OK'd by lawmakers. “That’s what the slabs are made out of.”

See-through fencing along the border typically consists of “bollards,” six-inch wide steel posts that are 18-feet tall and placed four inches apart.

Hamill said that “on top of the concrete barrier is bollard fencing, which is see through.”

That “permeability is necessary, because if water tops the barrier, it has to be able to flow through,” he said.

There were levee walls built along the southwest border in 2008 and the omnibus funding fills in the gaps along the 25 miles in question. McAleenan said the fresh cash going toward the new levee wall is “similar wall to what we built in 2008.”

“There’s never a place, with regard to these 25 miles, where the concrete is not serving as a levee, with an earthen structure abutting the concrete on the U.S.-facing side,” Hammill said.