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DHS Secretary Nielsen: Trump No Longer Wants A Full Length Border Wall

Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the Trump administration does not want a border wall built along the entirety of the United States’ southern border with Mexico.

During a back-and-forth with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Nielsen was questioned on numerous details regarding the Trump administration’s planned U.S.-Mexico border wall. Nielsen largely deflected, saying she was unable to recall any certain statistics which would have addressed Leahy’s specific questions. Nielsen similarly refused to make guesses about various hypotheticals posed to her by the Vermont senator.

In a curious portion of Nielsen’s testimony, the DHS secretary apparently didn’t know what the word “pay” meant. Leahy explained, “Well, usually when something is paid for, you pay for it with money.”

Finally, near the end of their exchange, Nielsen said something more or less concrete.

After needling the answer-free DHS secretary about the proposed $18 billion cost of the much-promised wall, Leahy was growing visibly annoyed. The exasperated–and exasperating–final seconds of the Nielsen-Leahy question-and-answer session went as follows:

Leahy: We’re talking about a wall the length of our country.
Nielsen: We’re not. The president has made that clear.
Leahy: [pauses and smirks] I’m not gonna play back a lot of his campaign speeches to you about a wall–a great, big, beautiful wall the length of our southern border paid for by Mexico–I’ve heard a lot of promises in my decades here. I’m waiting to see this one fulfilled.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) then intervened to clarify. He said, addressing Nielsen, “I think, since you were at the same meeting I was at Tuesday, the president said 700 miles additional wall?”

To which Nielsen replied: “Seven twenty-two, yes, sir. Initial down-payment.”

During his June 2015 campaign announcement, then-candidate Donald Trump said: “I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

The length of the U.S.-Mexico border is 1,989 miles. In 2006, the Secure Fence Act was passed with overwhelming support from both Democratic and Republican politicians–including Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Only one Republican, one independent and 18 Democrats voted against the measure. That bill provided for the construction of a 700-mile border wall with Mexico.

The Trump administration’s current proposal would result in a border wall some 567 miles shy of the full length of the U.S.-Mexico border.

[image via screengrab/ABC News]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

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