Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, told Fox News in an exclusive interview Wednesday that he has an aggressive, two-year agenda for completing a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
The retired four-star Marine general noted that a physical structure sends the message that the U.S. is protecting its citizens and that the wall will likely be a mixture of physical barriers and technological sensors. “It's a layered approach, and it’s got to be backed up by great men and women who are going to make sure that the wall is intact," he said.
Kelly also predicted construction would begin in the next few months. The border wall will ultimately become the largest project President Donald Trump — who made a name for himself in real estate before entering politics — has undertaken.
Both Kelly and Trump have said they believe they have the authority to begin work under existing law. "We're looking at the money aspect,” Kelly said, noting that the White House is negotiating the timeframe of the project with Congress. "The wall will be built where it's needed first, and then it will be filled in. That's the way I look at it," Kelly told Fox, adding, "I really hope to have it done within the next two years."
There has been some debate over the funding of the wall, with Trump initially and vocally demanding Mexico pay for the wall and then being rebuked by the Mexican president. Recently, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) suggested a border adjustment — or import — tax to be included in a spring tax reform bill could be used to fund the wall.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that the administration has “a buffet of options" for funding. In addition to Ryan's import tax, those options could include an increase in visa and border-crossing card fees, or a lump-sum payment from Mexico of billions of dollars, according to Fox News.
Congressional Republican leaders say they plan on drafting a budget measure to provide funding for the wall’s design and construction on the front end. As for eventual reimbursement, [Marc Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and former speechwriter for then-President George W. Bush] touted the import tax option as a “triple play.”
“It’s a trifecta: it pays for the wall, it’s good tax policy and there is nothing Mexico can do about it,” Thiessen told Fox News. “Trump wants to encourage exports and discourage imports, and this will force Mexico to pay—if you want to do this without a big diplomatic blow up and actually get the money from Mexico, this is the way to do it.”
Thiessen specifically was touting what’s known as a “border adjustment” plan, a broader proposal going beyond just Mexico which would exempt exports from taxation while taxing imports to the U.S.
Kelly is optimistic that the funding will be secured in short order. “I think the funding will come relatively quickly and like I said, we will build it where it's needed first as identified by the men and women who work the border," he said.
Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) estimated the cost of the wall could reach as much as $15 billion aa a recent GOP retreat in Philadelphia.