Democrats turn the screws on border wall builders

Funding isn’t the only thing standing in the way of Donald Trump’s promise to build a border wall with Mexico.

Democrats in cities and statehouses across the country are pressing forward with a calculated, long-range effort designed to undermine Trump’s plan by turning the screws on the businesses that work on the project.

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In California, Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a measure to bar the state from awarding contracts to any company involved in the wall’s construction, while a bill to prevent the state’s massive pension funds from investing in those companies stands pending. Lawmakers introduced similar measures in New York and Rhode Island. The city of San Francisco is considering a blacklist, and Berkeley adopted one last month.

“Symbolism matters,” said Rhode Island Rep. Aaron Regunberg, who sponsored the punitive legislation in his state.

Percolating for weeks, the local measures have assumed renewed significance amid the funding negotiations in Washington. While Trump this week withdrew his demand that a government spending bill include money for a wall, the efforts have kept sustained and far-flung pressure on the issue — and put many building firms in the crossfire.

In agriculture-rich California, where many Republicans have long advocated a path to legal status for people in the country illegally, Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara framed the no-contract measure he authored as a litmus test on immigration.

“I’m not going to allow people to speak from both sides of their mouth,” Lara told his colleagues on Tuesday, after a lobbyist for California contractors complained that his clients were “getting caught in the crossfire” of the state’s feud with Trump. “You’re either for the wall, which means you are for the ideals that this president has set forth of divisiveness, of walling us off from the rest of the world. Or you’re not. It’s as easy as that.”

Divestment and no-contract measures have held significance primarily for their symbolic value since the time of apartheid, and even supporters like Regunberg acknowledge the effort doesn’t yet involve “enough investment capacity that maybe it could make a difference” in whether the wall gets built. New York Assemblywoman Nily Rozic simply called it a “statement of values.”

But for state lawmakers forced to hear — and perhaps vote on — no-contract legislation, said Bill Whalen, a former speechwriter for GOP Gov. Pete Wilson who is a Hoover Institution research fellow, “It puts a Republican in an awkward position on immigration.”

Trump hit the caps lock on Twitter one day after signaling an openness Monday to delaying negotiations on wall funding, asserting he would nevertheless follow through on a signature issue of his campaign.

“Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL,” Trump wrote. “It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.”

Yet as Trump defended his fidelity to the wall against conservative critics — including radio host Rush Limbaugh, who said Trump was “caving” on the issue — many contractors remained wary of intensifying scrutiny from Democrats in large, liberal-leaning states. Last month, demonstrators protested outside the headquarters of a Southern California company that is among those submitting statements of interest on the project. Other businesses have elected not to participate.

“There are a lot of members of ours who are concerned about developments in not only California, but other states that might punish them for working on federal projects,” Dave Raymond, president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies, said during a break from his group’s annual convention in Washington this week. “There’s no question it’s already had a chilling effect. There are many engineering firms that have decided not to participate because they fear the ramifications.”

Raymond and other opponents of the no-contract legislation said they are reviewing its legality, while a legislative analysis of the California measure said the bill “raises a fundamental question of whether the state of California should automatically deny a contract to companies based solely on that companies’ [sic] involvement with certain work projects.

“If the State of California is prohibited from awarding or renewing contracts with companies that have worked on the border wall, would that begin a slippery slope of adding other projects to that list?” the analysis said. “What would that mean for the competitive bidding process?”

James Flanagan, a contractor whose San Francisco-based company is seeking work on the wall, said “it’s not like we’re trying to contract with Iran.” Of no-contract and divestment measures, he said, “It’s government tyranny, is what it is.”

It’s relatively rare for states to lobby against federal infrastructure spending within their borders, with two notable exceptions: Rail money turned down by Republican governors during the Obama administration, and funding for the now-abandoned nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which Trump is also seeking to revive.

“One reason why it’s unprecedented is because federal infrastructure projects are normally a thing that states want,” said Thomas Joo, a law professor at University of California, Davis, who specializes in corporate governance and contract law. “That’s one of the points of having state representation in Congress, is to bring federal money back to your districts to build highways and dams and hospitals, or whatever, that will make life better … That’s not what this one is primarily perceived as doing.”

He added, “I can’t think of a federal infrastructure project that would generate as much local opposition.”

Rob Stutzman, a Sacramento-based Republican consultant who organized a “Stop Trump” movement during last year’s election, said this week that Democratic efforts to stymie the border wall could backfire in moderate districts, with “blue-state silliness” distracting from the economy and other issues that rank higher on voters’ minds.

Steve Merksamer, who was California GOP Gov. George Deukmejian’s chief of staff, said he feared both Democrats and Republicans were “falling into a trap” by fanning the issue for political gain.

“The left wing’s argument is to keep the issue alive because it keeps Latinos voting Democratic,” said Merksamer, who said he holds no position on the wall but supports both increased border security and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “And the right wing’s [argument] is to keep the issue alive because it keeps people, particularly in the Midwest that don’t have a strong Latino population, and more in the red states, active … on that side of the ledger.”

He added, “In the meantime, there’s not a consensus, there’s not a political constituency for solving the friggin’ problem.”

On Tuesday, within hours of California’s no-contract measure passing through a legislative committee, Lara took to the airwaves to promote it on a broader stage. “We know that President Trump is still intent on building this boondoggle that is his wall,” Lara told CNN.

In moving forward with his legislation, Lara said, “We sent a strong message that if you want to do business on Trump’s wall and you want to work on that, then California, quite frankly, doesn’t want to do business with you.”

Read more : http://www.politico.com/story/2017/04/26/trump-border-wall-democrats-california-237659

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