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Trump Makes A New Push For Border Wall. Will Democrats Go Along?


Having declared a national emergency to claim $8 billion or so for a border wall, President Trump now tries again. A White House budget proposal that's due out today asks Congress for another 8 billion.


LARRY KUDLOW: He's going to stay with his wall, and he's going to stay with the border security theme. I think it's essential.

INSKEEP: Presidential adviser Larry Kudlow spoke on Fox. The president must request this funding from Congress, which means he will be asking lawmakers, including Scott Peters, who's a Democrat on the House Budget Committee. And he's in our studios. Good morning, sir.

SCOTT PETERS: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: You willing to entertain $8 billion - 8.6, to be precise - for wall funding?

PETERS: Well, I give the credit president for actually asking for this in the budget process rather than going for an emergency. But I think that this is an unwise expenditure and probably be a non-starter.

INSKEEP: Unwise in its entirety or maybe you could take a little less - or how are you thinking about this?

PETERS: Well, Democrats and Republicans in the last Congress proposed a strategy for border security that involved a mile-by-mile assessment of the entire Southern border. So in some areas, maybe there would be a wall. There's a wall today in San Diego. In other areas, you may be able to be served better by cameras or by radars or sensors. And that would be a much more cost-effective way to deal with border security along those unpopulated areas than just putting up a wall.

The other thing is we know that about 80 percent of hard drugs come through ports of entry. Last budget cycle, we started to help screening at those places to be more effective. I think we spent about 564 million for screening and equipment at the bill we passed last month at border - at ports of entry. That makes sense. A wall does not make any sense.

INSKEEP: So when Larry Kudlow talks about drugs and crime, as he did in that Fox News appearance yesterday, your answer is legal ports of entry. Make those strong.

PETERS: That's where they're coming in, and that's where we have to concentrate our efforts. And that's where Democrats and Republicans can agree that border security needs to be bolstered.

INSKEEP: You know, you used the word agree. And I will note that members of Congress did manage to come up with a solution, did manage to come up with at least a set of spending priorities that they agreed on.

It's also been widely noted that the president's fellow Republicans did not push for a lot of wall funding when they had control of both houses of Congress. I don't want you to speak for them, but you speak privately with them. Do you think that your fellow Republicans in Congress actually care about a wall, other than that the president wants them to care about it?

PETERS: I don't, Steve. I think it's - you know, it's quite a phenomenon what's happened to my Republican colleagues, the ones that didn't lose in the elections. They've left the room on immigration reform where we had bipartisan agreement on the deficits and debt, on trade. And they seem to be willing to go along with what the president wants.

And I think this is example that we know better than to think that a wall that can be tunneled under, you know, bored through or scaled over is really the right way to deal with border security. We had a budget shutdown where we actually defunded the Coast Guard. So the Coast Guard in San Diego, to their credit - the agents all showed up, and their spouses went to the food bank.

That's not how you deal with border security or national security. And I think the Republicans will be called on to come back to their senses and address things like this wall.

INSKEEP: Now, with that said, there does seem to be a real issue. Border apprehensions, as I'm sure you know very well, have gone up sharply in the past month or so. They're at a relatively high level compared to recent years. A lot of people are being apprehended, which means a lot of people are trying. And it's widely presumed that means some people are getting across illegally. What should you be doing about that?

PETERS: Well, two things - one is, over time, over the past decade, border apprehensions have been very low. We're not seeing single men come across like we used to. What we're seeing is family members, almost all from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. And that presents a different nature of threat.

Really, what they're - these people are fleeing conditions that are intolerable where they're not able to make a living, but also where they face death and all sorts of violence. So, you know, that's not the same border security situation that the president would have you believe.

INSKEEP: Would you like to deter them from making that dangerous journey? That is something the administration has said they want to do. It is also something the Obama administration said - that this is a bad journey. You should not be taking this journey.

PETERS: I do think it would be useful for them to know that the chances of getting asylum are very low. I think only 10 percent of people who make that journey get asylum. That would be good for them to know before they start out. At the same time, we see that there's a lot of desperation driving that.

I did get a chance to visit Honduras last August with a congressional trip. I think we could be doing more to make conditions there more tolerable, to improve the conditions for investment so businesses could - we would be willing to take the risk of investment in creating jobs down there and making things more tolerable so that they wouldn't want to leave their homes, which people just generally don't want to do.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks for coming by - really enjoyed it.

PETERS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Scott Peters is a Democratic congressman from California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.