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By Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley
President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as “absolutely critical to border security” in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.
A photo exclusively obtained by NBC News shows the results of the test after military and Border Patrol personnel were instructed to attempt to destroy the barriers with common tools.
The Trump administration directed the construction of eight steel and concrete prototype walls that were built in Otay Mesa, California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. Trump inspected the prototypes in March 2018. He has now settled on a steel slat, or steel bollard, design for the proposed border barrier additions. Steel bollard fencing has been used under previous administrations.
However, testing by DHS in late 2017 showed all eight prototypes, including the steel slats, were vulnerable to breaching, according to an internal February 2018 U.S. Customs and Border Protection report.
Photos of the breaches were not included in a redacted version of the CBP report, which was first obtained in a Freedom of Information Act Request by San Diego public broadcaster KPBS.
The photo of testing results obtained by NBC News was taken at the testing location along the California-Mexico border, known as “Pogo Row.”
Responding to the picture from the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday morning, Trump claimed “that’s a wall designed by previous administrations.”
While it is true that previous administrations used this design, the prototype was built during his administration.
“It’s very, very hard — the wall that we are doing is very, very hard to penetrate,” Trump said.
NBC News toured the eight wall prototypes twice before President Trump’s March 2018 inspection. According to San Diego Sector Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott, the versions seen by NBC News and the president, however, were larger than the actual prototypes tested at “Pogo Row.”
In a statement, DHS Spokeswoman Katie Waldman said, “The steel bollard construction is based on the operational requirements of the United States Border Patrol and is a design that has been honed over more than a decade of use. It is an important part of Border Patrol’s impedance and denial capability.”
“While the design currently being constructed was informed by what we learned in the prototypes, it does not replicate those designs,” said Waldman. “The steel bollard design is internally reinforced with materials that require time and multiple industrial tools to breach, thereby providing U.S. Border Patrol agents additional response time to affect a successful law enforcement resolution. In the event that one of the steel bollards becomes damaged, it is quick and cost-effective to repair.
“The professionals on the border know that a wall system is intended not only to prevent entry, it is intended to defer and to increase the amount of time and effort it takes for one to enter so that we can respond with limited border patrol agents. Even a wall that is being breached is a valuable tool in that it allows us to respond to the attempted illegal entry.”
In response to KPBS, CBP spokesman Ralph DeSio said the prototypes “were not and cannot be designed to be indestructible,” but were designed to “impede or deny efforts to scale, breach, or dig under such a barrier, giving agents time to respond.”
In his address to the nation Tuesday, Trump said the steel fence design is “what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense.”
As a candidate, Trump promised to build an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful” wall on the border that would be paid for by Mexico. Before the Oval Office address, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to Congress requesting $5.7 billion for the construction of 234 miles of steel barrier.
Amid a government shutdown over his border wall proposal, Trump will travel to McAllen, Texas Thursday to make the case for building the additional border barrier.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D.-Miss., said there is “nothing special” about Trump’s wall design.
“President Trump likes to pretend a wall will solve all our problems, but it’s been clear for some time that it is little more than a very expensive vanity project,” said Thompson. “Whether steel or concrete, there is nothing special about his wall and it will not secure our borders. Democrats are willing to work with the administration to improve our border security, but let’s get back to proven and effective solutions.”
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Mitch McConnell isn’t sure why Jon Stewart is ‘all bent out of shape’ over 9/11 funds
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that he doesn’t know why comedian Jon Stewart got “all bent out of shape” over funding for 9/11 first responders, and insisted “we will take care of” them.
The Kentucky Republican, who’s been accused over the years of slow-walking related legislation to help the emergency personnel who responded to the 2001 terrorist attacks, told “Fox & Friends” there’s “no way we won’t address this problem appropriately.”
Stewart had called out McConnell on “Fox News Sunday,” noting that the GOP leader had claimed earlier in the week he had always dealt with the first responders in a “compassionate way, and I assume we will again.”
“I want to make it clear this has never been dealt with compassionately by Senator McConnell,” Stewart said in the interview. “He has always held out until the very last minute, and only then under intense lobbying and public shaming has he even deigned to move on it.”
McConnell dismissed Stewart’s concerns Monday morning.
“Many things in Congress happen at the last minute,” he said. “We’ve never failed to address this issue and we will address it again. I don’t know why he’s all bent out of shape, but we will take care of the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund.”
Stewart, the former host of “The Daily Show,” took aim at Congress during his appearance before a House subcommittee last week, where he lobbied for a bill that would ensure the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund would be funded for 70 years. Congress has paid for the fund, which will run out of money in 2020, with a series of short-term spending bills, forcing first responders who were sickened by working in the toxic rubble of the World Trade Center to repeatedly travel to Washington to plead for help.
Testifying with Stewart last Tuesday was former NYPD detective Luis Alvarez, who was headed for a 69th round of chemotherapy the next day.
Stewart noted that there were several empty seats at the hearing.
“I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to — behind me a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me a nearly empty Congress,” he said. “Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak, to no one.”
“It’s shameful,” Stewart said.
McConnell shrugged off that complaint on “Fox & Friends” as well.
“That frequently happens because members have a lot of things going at the same time and it sounds to me like he was looking for some way to take offense,” he said.
In addition, the subcommittee hearing had been held in the full committee’s hearing room, increasing the number of empty chairs on the dais.
Asked if the legislation would be fully funded by the Senate after it is passed by the House, McConnell said, “Yeah.”
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