Why Is Speaker Ryan Going All-In on Trump’s Border Wall?

One of Trump’s most bizarre and consistent campaign promises was to build a wall along the entire stretch of our Southern border and make Mexico pay for it.

Trump made construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico the signature promise of his political campaign and told supporters it would be solid concrete, 30 feet high and would stretch the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump estimated it would cost perhaps $10 billion to $12 billion — and he vowed the Mexican government would pay the bill.

Lately the president has been making some other bizarre claims about the wall, while backing off of some of his promises.

Earlier in July, Trump told reporterson Air Force One that the wall should be see-through. Border patrol agents needed to be able to spot threats on the other side and avoid any “large sacks of drugs” thrown over the top. He also said he favors a wall with solar panels to generate energy and reduce the building cost.

He also opined that only 700 to 900 miles of wall may be needed. About 650 miles of the 2,000-mile long border already has some type of physical barrier. The remaining miles will be guarded by topography, the president said.

“You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious. You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing,” he said.

In light of all that, it is interesting that today, Speaker Paul Ryan went “all in” on building the wall, something he’s waffled on in the past.

(As a sidebar, if you’re trying to make a case that Border Patrol needs more resources, it’s probably not a good idea to show off all their toys in a video, i.e., helicopters, boats and horses. But hey, that footage sure makes Ryan look cool, doesn’t it?)

Note that Ryan’s video refers to the entire stretch of 1,954 miles along the Southern border. Why would the guy who has never met a government spending program that he liked want to waste money on a border wall that even Trump has backed off of supporting? Here’s Steve Benen’s response:

…the Speaker is trying to avoid blame for disappointing the Republican Party’s far-right base – just like with health care. It’s quite likely Ryan knows funding for a giant wall won’t be approved, but he wants to be able to say, “My chamber approved the money for this, so if you’re not happy, blame the Senate.”

That is very likely the case. But I’d add something to the mix. Negotiations over the budget are about to get under way and Ryan is aware that he and McConnell are probably going to need to get at least some Democrats on board in order to avoid a government shutdown this fall. Last week the House passed a spending package that included $1.6 billion to build the wall. It is very possible that Ryan will try to use that as leverage with Democrats, knowing they have vowed to stop the use of taxpayer dollars for these purposes. He’ll try to get them to agree to tax cuts and/or spending cuts in exchange for removing that $1.6 billion.

Democrats should be prepared to call Ryan’s bluff if he pulls a stunt like that. He doesn’t want to waste money on a border wall any more than most Democrats.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.