From the “This Is Why We Lose Department,” Rep. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), member of the House Homeland Security Committee, refused to give a straight yes or no answer to a basic question: Will House Republicans push for a border fence in connection with any immigration reform bill? Nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt began his interview with a simple question, one that is on the mind of so many Americans as they watch the immigration train rolling down the tracks:
“I think most conservatives and a lot of centrists and Democrats want a fence, a long, tall, strong fence. But when I read HR1417, there’s no fence in it. What’s the deal?”
What follows is one of the most infuriating and mind-boggling examples of Beltway Gobbledygook you will ever hear.
Read the exchange below and listen to the full audio here.
HH: Congressman, it’s great to have you on. The Homeland Security Committee has got to come up with a way to stop the border hemorrhaging. And my audience, and I think most conservatives and a lot of centrists and Democrats want a fence, a long, tall, strong fence. But when I read HR1417, there’s no fence in it. What’s the deal?
LB: Well, you know, I’m on Homeland Security, and we passed a border security bill, and I made it a point to let everyone know that because we passed a border security bill that claims we need to get 90% operational control of the border, that should not give the American people a sense of security, because the fact of the matter is, is that nearly half of the people that come into the country illegally aren’t crossing a border illegally. They’re coming on a visa, the visa expired, and they don’t go home, and we have no way of tracking them. So any state that has an international airport is a border state. So we have a lot of work to do in securing our borders, and that’s really what we need to do first.
HH: Well, I want to focus, though, on one aspect. It’s necessary, it’s not sufficient, and that is the border fence. We’ve got it in San Diego, we have it in a few places in Texas, a couple of places in Arizona. 2006 before you got there, the House said we need 700 more miles. It’s more like 1,000 more miles. But when I look at what the Homeland Security Committee has done, they haven’t mandated with specific design, timetable, authorization, money, a border fence. Why not?
LB: Well, you know, they’re looking at different technologies, and basically telling border patrol and the Homeland Security that you need to get operational control, and that is not always going to depend on a fence. But I agree, and in especially the high volume areas, I just came back from a tour of the border in San Diego, and crawled down a tunnel, an 80 foot hole into a tunnel that was 2,500 feet long. So securing the Southern border is going to be a task, but again, I don’t want to give a false sense of security that even if we are able to do that, that our borders are all secure, and we don’t have to worry, we can then go ahead with comprehensive immigration reform.
HH: Well again, I don’t think there would be that. But I do know that if there isn’t a fence, everyone’s going to be mad at the Republicans, because it’s the first step, the real, honest to God fence that’s mandated and built. And when I looked at what the Homeland Security Committee had done thus far, there is no fence. The Senate didn’t put a fence in, or actually, they put in some language that can be waived, and I think the party will revolt. I think they will throw people, I think they will go crazy if there isn’t a real honest to God fence of 1,000 miles mandated and built by this bill. But I haven’t seen anything like that in Homeland Security. Are you guys going to go back again, because HR1417 doesn’t mandate a mile of fence construction?
LB: It actually mandates that they have 90% occupational control, which again, is not enough.
HH: Yeah, but Congressman, with all due respect, I know…
LB: It’s not good enough.
HH: But that’s not a…
LB: We obviously, we need to get 100% control of our borders.
HH: But we don’t buy that. People don’t buy that stuff. That’s gibberish from the Congress. They want a fence with design specs. For example, if I said to you, Congressman Barletta, I’m going to give you 100% operational control around your house, and you said to me no, Hugh, I want a fence, and I’d say no, actually, I’ve got a better deal, I’m going to get you operational control, and you said to me no, Hugh, I want a fence. You wouldn’t hire me if I said well, I’m going to give you operational control. The American people want a fence. Why won’t the Congress give them that fence?
LB: Well, one of the points that I think, and I agree with you, Hugh. I’m not disagreeing. My issue is that so many in Washington believe that if we control the Southern border, our illegal immigration problem is over.
HH: Nobody on this show, nobody listening right…
LB: Nearly half, that will solve half of the problem.
HH: But we get that.
LB: The other half will exist, and it’s just as important that we stop all illegal immigration for national security reasons other than just at the border.
HH: Bravo, 100%. But we get that. Everybody gets that, and I tell my Republican friends.
LB: Well, they don’t get it in Washington, I can tell you that, because I’m the only one screaming about it.
HH: Well, not, but on this audience…
LB: And nobody, it seems to be falling on deaf ears.
HH: That’s because the reason…
LB: Our visa system is broken.
HH: The reason people are screaming, Congressman, the reason people are screaming is when Congresspeople get asked specific questions about the fence, they don’t answer them. They don’t say you betcha, I’m not voting for a bill that doesn’t have a fence in it.
LB: I’m looking for a bill that will secure America’s borders, and that’s airports, seaports, and land entries. I’m not just focusing on one area and saying that’s good enough for me. Hugh, I understand that people can come into this country illegally from the south, from the north, and from airports and seaports. And whatever we have to do, I’m supporting. I’m one of the first people that said listen, unless we secure our borders, all borders, including airports and seaports, I’m not voting for anything else.
HH: But Congressman, when people hear you say that, I honestly don’t know that Republicans get that. They don’t hear anything you say. They hear you not saying fence. They don’t believe Republicans who say border security, operational control, seaports, visas, because it’s all viewed as an extended way of avoiding saying I will vote for a fence, we will get it built. For whatever reason, Republicans will not say what their supporters want them to say, which is we will build the fence.
LB: Well, you do agree there are areas along the southern border that they can’t put a fence.
HH: Of course, I do.
LB: And there are areas…
HH: No, there’s not that many, no.
LB: There are areas that are the high traffic areas? Absolutely, I agree. We need to construct the fence. They were supposed to construct the fence. They didn’t, but that doesn’t solve the problem, and I don’t want the American people to believe that if we built the fence on the southern border, our problems are over.
HH: Nobody believes…
LB: I’m for a fence where there needs to be a fence. All I’m saying is, Hugh, is that you know, the time I’ve spent in Congress, that’s all I hear, is people believe that if we secure the southern border, our illegal immigration problem is over.
HH: No, you know what, stick around with me for another segment, Congressman, because we’ve got three extra minutes here.
HH: When I come back with Congressman Barletta, I’m going to make one more valiant attempt with a Republican congressman to explain that we are not dumb out here. We get it. There’s a lot of different aspects to the problem, but one of the major aspects of the problem is the Southern border. There’s at least a thousand miles of it that need a fence on it for which there is no fence, and Republican congressmen refuse to commit to that. And as long as they refuse to commit to that, they’re going to continue to have on their hands angry, angry constituents who feel condescended to.– – – -
HH: Carrying on my futile effort to get the fence built. Your colleague, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), today, Congressman, put a Wall Street Journal editorial in saying first thing you do is secure the perimeter. We understand that the perimeter extends to every international airport, it extends to the coastal region. But if you don’t get the southern border perimeter done, you haven’t solved 75% of the problem. So it’s a very simple question. Is the House Homeland Security Committee going to pass a bill that mandates a fence be built this year?
LB: Well, the border security bill that we passed in Homeland Security did not specify that a fence be built this year. And it won’t solve 75% of the problem, because 50% of the people that come in illegally didn’t cross the border. As I said, they came on a visa. So we have half the problem with visas, and the other half are people that are crossing the border. So I’m committed to doing whatever we can, Hugh. I don’t know if there’s anyone that stood up and fought against illegal immigration more than I did. I spoke up before anyone in America did, anything about trying to protect their city as I did, so I am committed to doing whatever we have to do. And that’s not only on the southern border, Hugh. I am committed to that, but I am also smart enough to know that that’s not going to solve America’s problem of illegal immigration and our national security threats of terrorists, that their preferred method of entering the United States is through the legal visa problem. And I am very concerned that we have left gaping holes to allow people into the country, whether it be from the southern border, or from our airports, that we have not solved the problem.
HH: So Congressman, then…
LB: And I believe we’re giving the American people a false sense of security that we’re going it.
HH: Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. Why in the world would anyone believe that Congress could fix the much more difficult problem of visa overstays and background if they can’t solve the easy problem of building a fence? In other words, if you guys can’t work with the Lego’s, why in the world would we let you work with the atomic physicists? It just is so maddening to me, and you’re a good guy. All the Republicans are good guys. But 1417 is a terrible bill. The bill that Homeland Security put forward is as bad as the Senate bill. And so why would anyone trust you guys to fix anything if you can’t build a simple fence? Why would we let you build the house if you can’t put the fence around it?
LB: Well, Hugh, I haven’t been there long enough to be able to tell you why the fence hasn’t been built in the past. All I can tell you is that I’m there trying to again bring logic to the fact that you don’t replace your carpet at a home when you still have a hole in the roof, and that whatever it takes to secure America’s borders so that we have 100% control of who’s coming in and out of our country, then we haven’t solved our illegal immigration problem. So I’m going to continue to do what I can to make sure that that’s the first thing that we do. We shouldn’t do anything else about illegal immigration other than making sure we’re protecting our borders.
HH: I agree, but 1417 doesn’t do it, Congressman. It’s a lousy bill, but come back and talk about it again soon.
If you’re as frustrated as Hewitt and his listeners were at the end of this exchange, you might enjoy an amazing parody of the interview provided by James Lileks that occurred later in the show. Hewitt was planning to go to Lileks’ home for a backyard cookout and he wanted to know if Lileks would be providing his quests hamburgers. Lileks didn’t go so far as to claim he would provide “90% operational control of ground beef products” to his guests, but he came close. Listen and enjoy.