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The Border Fence and Conservatives

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

South Carolina's Trey Gowdy and Ohio's Jim Jordan are two rock-solid conservatives. I interviewed both Wednesday on the IRS scandal and on the border fence.

The transcript of the Gowdy interview is here.


The transcript of the Jordan interview is here.

The transcript of my conversation last week with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Mike McCaul to which I refer in both of the chats with the two conservatives is here.

Here are the key exchanges on the border fence with Congressman Gowdy:

HH: Congressman, since last we talked, your colleague, Mike McCaul, came on the program, chairman of Homeland Security. And when you were here last on Judiciary, you said you know, the border issues, they’re Mike McCaul’s issues, Homeland Security’s got to deal with it. So I had on Lou Barletta, and I’ve had on Mike McCaul, and they were both disastrous conversations, and my audience is pulling out their hair, because they want Republicans to say we’re going to build a long, strong, double-layered fence with an access road, notwithstanding any other law or authority, we’re going to cross tribal lands, it’s going to be at least 700 miles, probably should be 1,000, half the border, and we’re going to appropriate the money and we’re going to get it done. And he wouldn’t say that, and Lou wouldn’t say that, and I’ve talked to some of your colleagues off the record who are involved in this. 1417 is a lousy bill. It’s got to change, or we’re going to kill our coalition. What are you hearing?

TG: You are correct, that is a not a committee of jurisdiction for me, but you are also correct, and in fairness, McCaul’s a friend. He’s a former federal prosecutor.

HH: Good man, great conservative.

TG: I think it’s a combination of things. Number one, building the fence is the execution of current law. And it’s very tough to convince people that you’re going to enforce future laws when you’ve done an abysmal job at enforcing past laws. So the fence is currently the law. It’s supposed to be built. And you know, you have I have talked before about symbolism. I wear a wedding ring. I like crosses. Symbols matter, and when you’re a sovereign nation, symbols matter. But there’s also the substantive effect of even if you can’t secure the entire border, you can certainly direct when and where there are areas of ingress and egress, which makes the job easier for law enforcement. If we’re going to go border security first, which is the House plan, then the border security has to be unassailable. And in the interest of full candor and frankness, currently, that bill is not unassailable.


HH: You see, that’s the deal. An IOU was written to the American people for 700 miles of fence, and I understood at the time that it was double-layered, access road, crossing where it needs to cross. Chairman McCaul said no, look, we’ve already built 650 miles of it, counting the traffic barriers, counting the pedestrian fences. And of course, my head started to spin, as did my audience’s, because they think that’s nonsense and sort of the thing we would expect from apologists for the not fence being built. So in the conference, I know you’ve got Tom Cotton writing his great piece in the Wall Street Journal. In the conference, is the conference aware that the base is going to go ballistic if a border security bill doesn’t come out with specifics, floors, minimums, and appropriated money in it?

TG: Yes, the conference is aware of three distinct facts that are hopelessly interconnected. Number one, border security has to be unassailable, unimpeachable. Secondarily, internal security has to be unassailable, unimpeachable for the visa overstays. And thirdly, you’ve got to turn off the jobs magnet, which means you have to have some version of E-verify. And frankly, if you just have one without the other two, you’re probably not going to be able to win your argument, at least in my district. So border security first, because it resonates most with people, and you’ve got to almost overprove that case because of the things you and I talked about in the first segment, the lack of trust in government. You almost have to overprove the fact that you’re worthy of being trusted on the border or internals before people will trust you on any of the other components of immigration reform.

HH: Now you’re a very fine prosecutor, and I was just a desk job lawyer. I was just a DOJ lawyer. I never had to prosecute anybody or cross-examine, so I’m out of my league talking to you. But I will note that when you say "border security," I don’t hear "border fence." That’s one of those terms where I need to hear border fence coming out of Republican Congressmen’s mouths, not border security, because border security, John McCain says that means Vader Radar, and to other people, it means towers and drones. No, the fence is a static, immovable object that cannot be turned off, Trey Gowdy. And I just don’t think that we should talk about border security. I think we should talk about the border fence, the actual, honest to God, fourteen foot high, double-layered, access road, border fence. And I just think is 1417 comes out and it doesn’t do that, all hell’s going to break loose.


TG: And I think that border security, and I’m not minimizing the fence. Border security is a combination of fencing, and if there’s technology that can be proven, but here’s what it can’t include. I’ll try to prove it in the negative. It can include triggers, discretion, waivers that are housed with anyone, Republican or Democrat, in the Department of Homeland Security, and I’m not trying to parse words here. The only reason I’m reluctant to say a border from pillar to post is because I have not been there, and I can’t say that the topography, the geography allows it. You’ve got eminent domain issues, obviously, which would

HH: Can I pause you?

TG: Yes.

HH: What possible...I’ve heard that a lot, and you and I are lawyers, and eminent domain issue means that you have to issue a notice of condemnation to take the property, and you settle up later. What possible eminent domain issue could there be?

TG: Just the compensation. It’s just the litigation associated with valuing the land.

HH: You just take it, you post your bond, and you argue out the price later. I mean, that’s just not a real objection.

TG: Well, I tell you, in South Carolina, it could take two years just to condemn three feet of land to enlarge a road. So maybe, first of all, I take exception. You probably were a better lawyer. Maybe you can do it in a lot quicker time than we were able to do it in South Carolina.

HH: All right, but I do come back to this, and we’re almost out of time. I think that when it comes down to it, that border security, I don’t want Vader Radar, I don’t want towers. I don’t think people listening to this show want any of that stuff. I don’t want drones. I want bricks and mortar with wire on top, and cars racing along the bottom of it. And then you can do other stuff. And so I just hope the conference doesn’t try and trick us on this, Trey Gowdy, and you’re one of the good guys. You know what I’m talking about. They’re just going to be, they’re just going to be wild with distrust if we get tricked.


TG: Well, they are wild with distrust now, and justifiably so, which I go back and say we need to overprove the security of the border, whether that’s fencing or if someone has a better idea than a fence, which historically, those have worked well, but we have to overprove the front end, the conditions present, like border security, internal and E-verify, because the level of suspicion and distrust is so high, people should not and do not believe that we are going to do what we tell them we’re going to do. So we need to tell them, post-fact, we’ve already done it before the other triggers go into effect.

HH: Trey Gowdy, amen. Thank you for joining me, Congressman, always a pleasure from South Carolina’s 4th Congressional district. Come back early and often.

Now here are the key exchanges on the border fence with Congressman Jordan:

HH: Now I need to switch over to immigration and ask you to put on your hat as chairman emeritus of the Republican Study Group, because I had on last week Chairman Mike McCaul of Homeland Security, good conservative, fine guy, but HR 1417, which passed out of that committee, is a terrible bill. It’s a terrible bill, because it’s silent on the fence, it does not pay off the IOU on the 700 miles. In fact, Chaiman McCaul said 600 plus of those miles had already been built. We both know that’s a joke. That’s not true. Congressman Jordan, will the Republican conference stand for any bill that is not specific on the border fence – miles, specs, double-layering, access road, all that stuff?

JJ: Yeah, let me say two things. We’re certainly not going to go for anything that doesn’t have true border security, and I do agree with you that the fence works, and we should be looking to do what the law says and build the fence where it’s supposed to be built. One of the first trips I ever took in Congress back in the spring of 2007 was to the fence in the Tucson sector. And the fence works. We talked to agents. I saw the fence. It actually works. So I get that fact. But in a broader sense, we are not going to go for any bill that doesn’t have border security first, and make sure that happens before anything else gets even addressed.


HH: What I was talking about with Trey Gowdy is, though, border security has come to be a polluted term. It’s a polluted term because the Senate used it, and by border security, they meant everything but a fence.

JJ: Yeah.

HH: And therefore, a bill without specifics about miles and height and all that different stuff, you know, Clean Water Act trumping authority…

JJ: Yeah.

HH: It’s just going to be suspect, and I’m trying to sound the alarm to the House GOP that this will not fly.

JJ: Yeah, good for you. And the other thing to keep in mind is anything that where the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano’s group, and whoever is going to be the new secretary there, anything that they sign off on is completely suspect. That group has no credibility. So I share your concern.

Gowdy and Jordan are rock-solid conservatives, and it is safe to say that they do not quite know what to say about the fence, which reflects, I think, the confusion among House leadershipo over the issue, which is bizarre since there is no confusion --zero confusion-- among the base of the GOP about a fence: It should be very long, very high, double-layered, accessible by Border Patrol vehicles its entire length, and built wherever it needs to go without regard to "tribal lands," so-called endangered species habitats or "waters of the United States." Congress can exempt it from the environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act, and Congress can appropriate the money in the authorizing legislation and it can mandate construction begin immediately and that no "regularization" be triggered until it is finished.

The border with Mexico is 1,950 miles long. It is absurd to think that at least half of it doesn't need a fence, so a good starting point is 1000 miles, and the "traffic barriers" and "pedestrian fencing" built to date should not count against that mandate unless a second layer is added to existing pedestrian fencing.


Fences work, as Congressman Tom Cotton pointed out in his Wall Street Journal editorial last week, most recently in the Sinai desert where Israel stopped illegal immigration into the country from Africa by use of a fence.

As a political matter, a vote for the lousy H.R. 1417 which came out of the Homeland Security Committee --another "we demand a plan from the Obama Administration" bill-- is a toxic vote for conservatives, a vote for a joke of a bill that will get incumbents ripped by Tea Party challengers next year.

That bill can be saved with a tough, specific amendment on the fence --here's the draft of one-- but leadership is going to have to persuade Chairman McCaul that he's leading the Conference into a box canyon. Congressmen, especially chairmen, can be stubborn, but McCaul was a prosecutor, so he should yield to evidence. The evidence is there that the overwhelming majority of Republican voters and a whole bunch of independents and Democrats as well, ant a fence. They want a fence even if they believe, as I do, in regularization for the 11 million and a "Dream Act" of some sort.

But the fence is the non-negotiable because without it we will be back here in five years, when the high tech toys don't deter the millions who figure out that if you can just get to America they will let you stay.

As Congressman Cotton encouraged people to do during his weekly appearance on my show, now is the time to email your Member and to find out when you can visit him or her in their office during the August recess. Don't take promises of "border security" for an answer. Tell them that you want a long, strong, double-layered 1,000 mile fence, and you want it first.

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