Republicans In Congress Have Never Really Supported Trump’s Border Wall

Despite their rhetoric, Republicans in Congress have shown through their own inaction that they don't really support the President's border wall.

We’re now twenty-seven days into a shutdown that revolves not around arguments over the level of government spending. as previous shutdown debates have, but on the seemingly minor issue of providing $5.7 billion for partial funding of the President’s border wall. As we go on, the President and Republicans continue to try to blame Democrats for refusing to consider any money for the wall even as polling clearly indicates that most Americans are blaming the President for the shutdown and do not support the construction of the wall in any case. Realistically, this is naive considering the fact that Democrats have made their opposition to the wall clear from the beginning and have indicated they will not support any deal that includes wall funding, which is, of course, the reason that Trump and the GOP are trying to blame Democrats for the shutdown.

As Noah Rothman notes in a piece posted at NBC, though, Republicans didn’t exactly do anything to support the construction of the wall while they had control of the House, Senate, and White House:

Less than a month after Trump took the oath of office, Republicans were already backing away from the prospect of a border wall — because of the price tag and lack of spending offsets, to which many Republican lawmakers objected, but also because there was disagreement over the essential utility of a physical partition. “I don’t think we’re just going to be able to solve border security with a physical barrier because people can come under, around it, and through it,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn told reporters in February 2017. “If you only build a wall, only a ‘wall’ without using technology, individuals, drones, observations, etc., you’re not going to secure the border,” the late Sen. John McCain agreed.

Some Republicans had not warmed to the venture a month later, as a standoff over wall appropriations in a bill to fund the government loomed. “The border wall is probably not a smart investment,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said in early 2017. Though he supported funding a wall as part of a legislative package that would also provide young undocumented immigrants with a pathway to legal status, Graham and other Republicans were prioritizing increased military spending over border security.

The White House’s March 2017 request for $7.5 billion in spending for border security initiatives, including $4 billion to be allocated to wall-related planning, construction, and legal costs related to the reclamation of private land, generated little support among Republicans. In late April 2017, the Wall Street Journal surveyed border state lawmakers from both parties and found that “not a single member of the House or Senate representing the region expressed support for the funding request.” They noted, however, that Sen. Ted Cruz “backs the overall idea of a wall,” but would not commit to support Trump’s specific request. A few months later, USA Today Network polled all 534 lawmakers in both the House and the Senate and found that just 69 of 292 Republicans — one-quarter of the GOP conference — supported Trump’s request for $1.6 billion to begin wall construction.

Republicans spent the summer of Trump’s first year in office avoiding a vote on funding for the wall. By Labor Day, the GOP’s strategy to keep the government open and pass tax reform legislation meant pushing the border security debate into the next year. “We have to deal with Harvey, we have the debt ceiling, we have a continuing resolution, which will be just about a three-month continuing resolution,” then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in September 2017. “So you will deal with the wall a little later in the year.”

They didn’t.


By the fall of last year, with elections looming, it was clear that the GOP would not fund Trump’s wall, but Trump seemed to be the last to know. “Republican leaders are more focused on urging Trump to delay a fight for the wall than on fighting for it themselves,” the Washington Post reported in September 2018. “Congress is working to pass a short-term spending bill that would avert a government shutdown Oct. 1 and punt a showdown over wall funding into December, after the November midterms.” This effort by Republicans to avoid a controversial vote on a contentious campaign promise was an attempt to avoid making a bad political environment worse, but Trump insisted on framing the election as a referendum on his policies and, specifically, the border wall. Democrats went on to have their best midterm election showing since the year Richard Nixon resigned.

For two years, Republicans had many opportunities to fund Trump’s wall both in part or in whole and they declined on every occasion. In failing to approve the wall, Congressional Republicans rendered a negative verdict on Trump’s signature policy proposal. The GOP was right to be skeptical of what a wall could accomplish. But they should not be allowed to pretend that they have always been steadfast supporters of this project now that a Democratic majority in the House provides them with political cover.

Rothman is, of course, entirely correct. Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House for nearly two years from the date of President Trump’s Inauguration and yet they did nothing to even attempt to fund the wall. Indeed, a review of the budget process during the budget debates both in 2017 and last year indicate that, while Republicans on Capitol Hill paid lip service to the idea of funding for the wall, they failed to include any such funding in the budget bills that were voted on by either the House and the Senate, much to the chagrin of the President, who generally blamed Democrats for the fact that he wasn’t getting funding for his wall and simultaneously threatening to shut the government down if he didn’t get funding. Until this past December, though, the President didn’t follow through on that threat. Instead, he appeared content with making baseless claims that the wall was being built when it, in fact, was not, and in using the issue to bash Democrats at his campaign-style rallies that he held on repeated occasions in 2017 and 2018.

Republicans might respond to this criticism by stating that they could not get a budget approved in the Senate without Democratic support and that Democrats were adamant in their opposition to the wall. While it may be true that, under normal Senate rules, Republicans would need sixty votes to get the budget passed, which would have meant the support of at least eight (later nine after the election of Doug Jones) Democratic Senators) Democrats for a cloture vote, that doesn’t explain why they failed to try to use the reconciliation process to pass a budget that included government funding. Additionally, as I have stated before, it’s simply not true to say that Democrats have never been willing to fund the wall. Last year, Senate Minority Leader appeared to have worked out a deal with the President that would have averted the first shutdown of 2018 with a deal that kept the government open, provided for $25 billion for the President’s wall, and protected the beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Within hours, though, the White House had rescinded the deal, and that led to the aforementioned shutdown. As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put it at the time, negotiating with this President is like negotiating with Jello. In other words, President Trump could have had five times the amount of funding for his wall that he’s asking for now, and he walked away from it. Given that, it seems clear that Republican committment to the border wall is really nothing but empty words. It’s no wonder then that Democrats are calling their bluff now that they are in power in the House.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Environment, Science & Technology, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    This is trump picking a fight just so can show his fans how tough he really is.

    Yeah, just try saying that with a straight face.

    Or maybe he’s just trying to distract from the daily shitshow his administration is, or the Mueller investigation.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    Doug, I think you highlight something here that isn’t getting enough attention: the Republican Congressional leadership’s role in all this. As you point out, they are not offering a single thing in order to get Trump’s wall built. As you point out, it’s because they don’t think it is worth anything.

    Another point: Trump is unbelievably passive in this. He appears to be wandering around an empty White House complaining that no-one is bringing a deal to him. From all accounts he isn’t even aware that he Republicans are not negotiating on his behalf and, since he’s not negotiating himself, there is simply nothing going on. But Trump does not even appear cognizant enough to understand that. He’s left with a bunch of yes-men who who won’t tell him anything he doesn’t want to hear, and his only other input seems to be from the foreign owned Fox News.

    Sure, Mike Pence seems to be shuffling around the corridors of congress, but if you have any doubts about how seriously anyone takes him, he is meeting with staffers, not the Reps or Senators themselves. The Vice President of the United States is conducting staff level meetings while the elected officials laugh at him.

    All of this begs the question: Why is McConnell doing this? It’s hard to believe he doesn’t have a plan, but I haven’t seen anyone even speculate as to what it might be.

  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    I think it works like this. D’s and R’s make a deal for DACA and 25 billion for the wall, and Trump would agree except certain talking heads on Fox go ballistic about “amnesty”, so Trump kills it.

    And the same is true this time around. Everything is rolling along just before Christmas and the end of the session, and the talking heads (and the Freedom Caucus) come along and go ballistic about “no wall” and how “Trump caved” and woops, a shutdown.

    He really is that narcissistic.

  4. James Pearce says:

    Given that, it seems clear that Republican committment to the border wall is really nothing but empty words.

    On a party level? Yeah.

    But before they had Donald Trump, they had Tom Tancredo.

  5. mattbernius says:

    I know I’m a broken record on this, but this issue is all of Trump’s chickens coming home to roost.

    – He build his entire campaign, and his image, on being the person who builds the wall (literally tying it in to his “history” with construction).
    – He claims to be a great dealmaker, but he fails to make a deal on this when his party is in full power.
    – He alienates most of his remaining key allies on Capital Hill in leadership, so McConnell ghosts on him during this.
    – He also alienates all of his negotiators (including the VP and his son-in-law), meaning that none of them can effectively negotiate because they don’t know what he will support on any given day.
    – He realizes that if he gives anything on the issue now, he loses his base.
    – Finally, because he knows his base supports both the wall and shutting down the Government, he cannot allow the Democrats to get all the blame, because that means he gets none of the credit. That means he cannot stay on message and can never fully shift the blame to the Democrats. That works when your base considers them the enemy, but that’s not going to work with Republicans and Independents who are on the fence about you.

    And given that the Republican party has accepted him as their defacto head, they are (for the most part) ready to go down with him over this.

    Now, if a major emergency happens, this could all shift and hurt the Democrats… but that hasn’t happened yet.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Another example of both that the inmates have taken over the asylum and of the split between the “populist” GOPs and, for want of a better term, the Establishment GOPs.

    Trump won by cranking the xenophobia up to 11. But it’s the same xenophobia GOPs have long run on. The “Establishment” know the wall is nuts, but they’re terrified, not of Trump, but of the base that they did as much to create as Trump did.

    It lately came out that his advisors wanted Trump to talk about immigration and the wall came up only as something simple enough for him to remember. I suppose someone, somewhere, may be lobbying for the wall, but I can’t imagine who. The wall seems to be, like Brexit, something that benefits no one except scruple free politicians who can demagogue it.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    @James Pearce: I don’t recall Tancredo saying anything about a wall. No one is disputing that GOPs are cheerfully anti-immigration for electoral purposes. (As long as it doesn’t involve shutting down their corporate sponsors’ cheap labor, like say, enforcing E Verify would.)

    Re the shutdown, the issue is the wall, not immigration.

  8. Kathy says:


    Sure, Mike Pence seems to be shuffling around the corridors of congress, but if you have any doubts about how seriously anyone takes him, he is meeting with staffers, not the Reps or Senators themselves.

    I thought the Vice President is supposed to be seen only during the campaign, and at funerals of low-tier foreign leaders. I’m not sure he’s supposed to be heard.

    For one generation, the VPs seemed to be important. But that was an anomaly. I mean the time between 1960 and 2000, when Johnson, Nixon, and Ford ascended to the presidency bye death, election, and resignation respectively. Later former and soon-to-be-former VPs secured their party’s nomination, scoring one win out of three (Bush the elder won, Mondale and Gore did not).

    Since Gore, almost 20 years ago now, no former VP has even run. A streak Bidden hopes to end this year. We’ll see.

  9. CSK says:

    Somewhat OT, but hilarious: The WSJ is reporting that Trump directed Michael Cohen to hire RedFinch Solutions LLC to rig two online polls in his favor in 2015. RedFinch got $12,000-$13,000 of the $50,000 Trump reimbursed Cohen (plus a Brazilian martial arts expert’s boxing glove). Cohen also had Redfinch set up a Twitter account named @WomenforCohen that praised Coehn’s looks, character, and general studliness.

    RedFinch was not successful at rigging the polls.

  10. James Pearce says:


    I don’t recall Tancredo saying anything about a wall.

    He called it a fence.

  11. Kylopod says:

    A couple of weeks ago Matt Yglesias argued that most elected Republicans don’t care about the border wall, and that that’s why any DACA-wall deal with Dems is bound to fail: because in essence the Repubs would be giving the Dems something for nothing, and they know it. It’s like they’d be giving real dollars in exchange for monopoly money, only they’re forced to pretend the monopoly money is worth something because that’s what they’ve been telling their base for years.

  12. Kylopod says:


    Cohen also had Redfinch set up a Twitter account named @WomenforCohen that praised Coehn’s looks, character, and general studliness.

    Jesus, the difficulty in telling real news apart from parody these days….

  13. CSK says:


    It gets better: The head of RedFinch is also chief information officer for…Liberty University.

  14. CSK says:

    Oh, and Cohen handed the RedFinch guy the payment in cash…in a WalMart bag

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: @Kathy: Prior to Mondale, you would be correct. FDR thought so little of Truman that he kept him out of the loop even as his health failed. Truman literally didn’t know about the atomic bomb until after he was sworn in. Eisenhower despised Nixon (Nixon had that effect on people…). Kennedy and Johnson were very wary of each other, although Kennedy used him by necessity for Congressional advice and arm twisting. Agnew was simply a crook who made occasional speeches for Nixon and collected envelopes full of cash for himself from mob connected Maryland contractors.

    But Carter brought Mondale into decision making and relied on him for advice. VP reverted again with Reagan, who poked fun at Bush Sr. on more than one occasion, and of course Bush Sr. himself had little respect for Quayle. But Clinton took Gore on as a very active VP, even more so than the Carter/Mondale relationship. Dick Cheney, it could be argued, served as COO during Bush Jr’s first term. Obama used Biden extensively. Trump, of course, treats Pence with contempt, when he notices him at all, but that is true of literally every person in Trump’s orbit, eventually.

    And, as far as no former vice running since Gore, well, there have only been 2 opportunities. Bush served a second term. Cheney didn’t run after that second term, but setting aside his reputation, it was virtually impossible for him to survive the stress of an election on his heart. Obama served a second term. Biden would have almost certainly entered the subsequent race if his son hadn’t died. So, I don’t think there is really a trend there, merely a set of circumstances.

  16. Teve says:


    Since Gore, almost 20 years ago now, no former VP has even run. A streak Bidden hopes to end this year. We’ll see.

    yeah but former VPs since Gore just means Cheney and… Biden.

  17. wr says:

    @Kylopod: “Jesus, the difficulty in telling real news apart from parody these days….”

    You mean like Giuliani saying that he never said there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia… and Trump didn’t, either?

  18. Joe says:


    I used to hear a theory that Bush Sr. picked Quayle as a defense against impeachment. While the same might be said of Trump picking Pence, I think most Americans would be willing to stomach that change.

  19. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    Now, if a major emergency happens, this could all shift and hurt the Democrats

    I mean…anything is possible…but I don’t see how. The Trumplicans shut down the Government, have shown themselves to be incapable of governing, and if something happens it’s on them. There have been two bi[artisan agreements that Individual-1 reneged on. Dems have passed Republican bills to open the government. Anything that happens is directly attributable to McConnell and Dennison.

  20. mattbernius says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    I agree, but in moments of true crisis, down becomes up and up becomes down.

    It also depends on the specific crisis. Lets say a mass shooting or terrorist attack is committed by someone in the country illegally. Regardless of how they came in, that could completely reverse the narrative.

  21. MarkedMan says:

    @Joe: Yeah. It’s interesting that it was Pence who came out and said that the North Koreans hadn’t honored their commitment. Someone is trying to make him look more presidential and distance him from Trump. Which means Trump will take a dump on his head any minute…

  22. Kylopod says:


    Cheney didn’t run after that second term, but setting aside his reputation, it was virtually impossible for him to survive the stress of an election on his heart.

    Also, Bush was extremely unpopular. I think if not for that factor, someone in his administration would have run, whether it was Cheney or someone else. The key thing historically is that two-term presidents who are reasonably popular by the end (which would exclude Bush and Truman) are usually followed by a standard-bearer from the administration, which has typically been the vp, but not always–Hoover was Sec. of Commerce, Taft was Sec. of War, several 19th-century candidates were Sec. of State. Hillary falls right into that tradition. Regardless of Biden’s intentions, Hillary was the one being groomed as Obama’s successor all those years. To have them both enter the race in 2016 would have been deeply disruptive and unpredictable (it quite frankly could have led to the nomination of Bernie due to the “establishment” vote being split). It’s possible Biden was willing to jump in anyway, but I think he’d have been virtually on his own in making this decision. I highly doubt Obama or most in his circle were in any way encouraging it except as a contingency in the event that Hillary’s candidacy went down in flames due to scandal or health, and they quickly needed an establishment alternative to stop Bernie.

  23. Kathy says:


    I can’t think of any other organization where the nominal number 2 person has little to no importance. you’d think a VP should be involved in the everyday running of government, as they may have to take over on short or no notice. Think of a backup QB in the NFL. They rarely play, but they practice and know the plays as well as the starter.

  24. KM says:


    that that’s why any DACA-wall deal with Dems is bound to fail: because in essence the Repubs would be giving the Dems something for nothing, and they know it.

    I’ve never understood why some liberals thought this was even an option. Other then being related by topic, DACA and the Wall are complete opposites of the ideological spectrum. It was never going to happen. You would be essentially saying we’re OK with you building a wall solely to keep out the brown people you assume make up the majority of illegal immigrants in exchange of letting certain children (mostly brown) to stay. Oh the flip side, conservatives with an ounce of sense realize they’re agreeing to let people they don’t want stay and be citizens for a structure that’s going to take 10yr+ if ever to manifest. Something every right wing pundit will maliciously harp on to kill any sort of agreement – expect accusations of “magic beans” to be common.

    If conservatives take that deal, they’re bigger fools then Donald. Frankly, it’s a stumbling block and the Dems would be the ones to look bad when they inevitability have to retract it as a negotiating point to keep the talks going. Better to save up DACA when there’s a chance we’ll be able to get it honestly, cleanly and with most of our souls and morals still intact.

  25. KM says:


    To be fair, that’s because the imperial Presidency is a rather new thing for the US and imperial power concentrates, not dilutes. The President isn’t going to delegate work to his replacement he may have had little to no choice in selecting rather then hand-picked advisers and staff. Remember, the Founders were from a time when scheming chamberlains and courts could and would eliminate a King for his successor, especially one under their thumbs. They made the VP the deciding vote in the Senate because it was nominally more power then the Executive would have- incentive to not rush for a Klingon promotion, perhaps?

  26. Kylopod says:

    @KM: In theory I don’t think there’s any contradiction between taking measures to prevent illegal border crossings and attempting to protect children who are already in the country. To some extent, that’s exactly what the Obama Administration was doing. The problem is that a border wall wouldn’t be a very good way of achieving that goal: it would be ineffective, costly, and practically impossible to implement. So at the end of the day it’s just a way of sending a message that brown people aren’t welcome. But proponents of the wall won’t admit that openly, instead resorting to lofty rhetoric about keeping America safe and secure. That just brings us back to the original point, which is that there’s a big gulf between what Republicans publicly say about the wall and its actual value to them as policy. Pundits tend to forget this in their attempts to reduce everything to the horse-trading that’s always been a regular feature of politics.

  27. Kathy says:


    To be fair, that’s because the imperial Presidency is a rather new thing for the US and imperial power concentrates, not dilutes.

    I’m afraid overall that’s so, with the notable exceptions being mere exceptions.

  28. James Pearce says:


    Hillary was the one being groomed as Obama’s successor all those years.

    Glad to see this acknowledged.

    Groomed for years, and still went with the “deplorables” stuff and tried to pretend she didn’t have pneumonia.

  29. mattbernius says:

    Humbly submitted for consideration:

    Pull quote:

    If there were any sort of White House ”strategy;” on the shutdown (and yes, I use strategy loosely), it seemed to be based on three assumptions:

    1. The wall — Trump’s central campaign promise — would unite and animate the Trump/GOP base
    2. Democrats would be divided — potentially even upending Nancy Pelosi’s ascension to Speaker
    3. Trump would be sure-footed on his favorite, and more politically favorable, turf of immigration and security, while Democrats would fumble and stumble.

    But, here we are almost a month later, and the polling data — and subjective data as well — suggest that all three of those assumptions have failed to come true.

  30. gVOR08 says:

    I generally respect Yglesias’ opinions, but I don’t get this. Yes, the wall is useless as policy. But for a politician the value of an action is in getting him (yes, him, we’re talking GOPs here) reelected. They give the Ds DACA, which is both good policy supported by, IIRC, a majority of Republicans, and helps Ds get reelected. In return the GOPs get the wall which helps get the base out for them. They haven’t been running on abortion for decades because it has any policy value.

    On the other hand, there is the fact that both are of more value as an issue than as an accomplishment. And, perhaps more telling, no lobbyist is promising them money in return for a vote for the wall.

  31. Kathy says:


    Now and then in history, you come across an amateur who takes military command and proves himself (it’s usually men) utterly brilliant as regards strategy and tactics. They then go on to achieve a string of implausible victories, usually at a reasonable cost (by the standards of the time), and some never know defeat or never know serious defeat.

    One such was Julius Caesar, who first commanded troops while Proconsul in Gaul.

    One who wasn’t so gifted was Adolf Hitler.

    He achieved considerable military success when facing enemies who were unprepared, caught unaware, reluctant to fight, or all three. Once his enemies were better prepared, upped their intelligence game, and whipped their armies into shape, steady failure became the norm for the Wehrmacht.

    The same can happen in other fields. As far as politics goes, El Cheeto is a lot more like Hitler in that sense. He got lucky twice, and has accomplished little since. The problem, for him but also for us, is he fancies himself an improved version of Julius Caesar.

  32. JohnMcC says:

    @Kathy: At the risk of appearing condescending let me share the long-standing joke that illustrates the American Vice Presidency; it’s supposed to date back to Teddy Roosevelt.

    A woman had two sons. One went to sea. One became Vice President. Neither was ever heard from again.

  33. Mister Bluster says:

    …it seems clear that Republican committment to the border wall is really nothing but empty words.

    Republican duplicity is in full swing in the Illinois 12th Congressional District.
    Bost spokesman says Facebook poll taken down because it was overrun by out-of-district votes

  34. An Interested Party says:

    As far as politics goes, El Cheeto is a lot more like Hitler in that sense.

    The idea of getting Mexico to pay for a border wall is as stupid as invading Russia…