WASHINGTON (CN) – Picking up the pieces of a meeting meant to head off a government shutdown, congressional Democrats blasted President Donald Trump on Tuesday for putting his dream of a wall on the southern border ahead of a bipartisan solution.
“This temper tantrum will not get him his wall and will hurt a lot of people,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said of Trump. “He admitted he wants a shutdown. It’s hard to believe he wants that.”
Schumer pressed this point in the Oval Office earlier today after Trump told lawmakers he wants the appropriations bill to include at least $5 billion for the wall.
“You say ‘my way or we’ll shut down the government,’” the New York senator said to the president.
“Yes, if we don’t get what we want,” Trump said. “I will take the mantle of shutting it down. I will shut it down.”
Instead of the $5 billion investment, lawmakers urged the president to support a separate measure that includes six bipartisan appropriations bills. The Democrats also offered another measure that pours $1.3 billion into the Department of Homeland Security for border fencing, sensors and other equipment.
“Each way would get a majority of votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate and would avoid a shutdown,” Schumer said.
On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Peter Simonson, executive director of the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said increasing funding of a border wall would only “reward” bad behavior at the border by Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel.
Sexual assaults and worse are occurring unchecked, Simonson said, pointing to the case of Roxana Hernandez.
A transgender woman who fled Honduras in search of asylum in the United States, Hernandez was held in ICE custody and died in May. Authorities said it was due to complications from illness.
“The autopsy suggests she was beaten to death by guards at a detention center in western New Mexico,” Simonson said. “A vote to increase funding is a vote to support these kinds of abuse.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee met to discuss the impending shutdown as well as a slew of oversight concerns with Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
Congressional budget estimates peg the wall’s price tag at $70 billion, with maintenance costing roughly $100 to $150 million per year.
As McAleenan worked through the figures with lawmakers, he told Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, wall construction can range from $5 million to $25 million per mile.
“We’ve got 2,700 miles of wall and barriers,” Kennedy said. “You can build the interstate for $1.5 million a mile. I understand you have to have some technology and sensors, but $25 million a mile?”
McAleenan attributed the higher costs to complex terrain at certain spots along the border.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., meanwhile called it paramount to find “workable” solutions to high costs if the White House wants to avoid stalemates with Congress.
Additional investment for the wall will also be informed by a report from Customs and Border Protection reviewing what unfolded during the tear-gassing of migrants attempting to cross the border on Nov. 20.
Feinstein described the use of lethal force as a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits federal troops from performing civilian law enforcement duties.
McAleenan shot back that the scene was chaotic, saying agents faced a “dynamic and challenging situation” as migrants hurled rocks in their effort to cross. One agent suffered a shattered knee from a rock, he said, insisting that the agency did not intentionally target women and children.
“Only those throwing rocks were targeted,” McAleenan added. “It was in protocol as part of use of force continuum. Pepper spray or gas are authorized against ‘active resistance,’ which was certainly ongoing in this case,” he said.
While Trump has equated the wall with better border security, Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked McAleenan to respond to Trump’s tweets Tuesday morning slamming Democrat inaction.
“During the first round of budget negotiations in February, you said you wanted more drive through inspection systems that scan or X-rays vehicles and containers coming across the border so you can detect suspicious items on board,” Durbin said.
“We worked on a bipartisan immigration agreement for four months which specifically included your priorities,” the senator continued. “We increased hiring and retention incentives, and invested in port-of-entry infrastructure personnel, and made updates to biometric-entry [technology].”
Durbin said the Senate didn’t reach 60 votes because the president opposed it. Just a few years ago, meanwhile, a $40 billion border-security bill had bipartisan majority support but was never taken up by the Republican House.
“We want border security,” said Durbin. “We want smart border security, and we don’t support the administration’s hard-line agenda, which would slash legal immigration, hurt family reunification, and dramatically cut protection for women and children fleeing persecution.”
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