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Amid Shutdown, Gov. Abbott Avoids Border Wall Debate

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took his oath of office on Tuesday. In his speech he promised lower taxes and school funding overhaul.
Associated Press
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took his oath of office on Tuesday. In his speech he promised lower taxes and school funding overhaul.

Republican Greg Abbott began a second term as Texas governor Tuesday by promising lower taxes and a school funding overhaul but without mentioning a national policy dispute that weighs heavily on his state: President Donald Trump's demand for a border wall.

Texas shares 1,200 miles of border with Mexico and stands to be affected most if Trump receives the $5.7 billion he is demanding to build a barrier and end the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history. Abbott has said walls are effective but hasn't been an outspoken cheerleader of Trump's demands during the shutdown. He didn't wade into the debate at all during his inauguration ceremony, where some onlookers on the Texas Capitol plaza chanted "Build a Wall!"

Virtually all Texas Republicans have stood by the president throughout the shutdown. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz both accompanied Trump to the Texas border last week , as did Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who went so far to suggest that Texas could oversee construction of a wall if given the money.

Abbott didn't join Trump, with aides to the governor saying there were scheduling conflicts. But Abbott has also not taken a clear position on Trump's demands for a wall in recent interviews, and he isn't casting the border as a priority for Texas at a time when the president is calling the situation 250 miles south of the state Capitol a crisis.

Abbott, who four years ago vowed that "I will secure our border" during his first inauguration address, never mentioned it in his second one Tuesday.

"Together, we will pay our teachers more. We will provide a better education for our students. We will make our schools safer," Abbott said. "We will tackle skyrocketing property taxes. We will help Texans recover from storms that have ravaged our communities. We will do all this and more."

Inauguration speeches traditionally lean more toward long-range visions than current events. But some use the occasion to mix both. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, chided the Trump administration following his swearing-in last week but did so without saying the president's name. Abbott sidestepping the debate is the most visible example of the Texas Legislature suddenly taking the spotlight off border security after GOP lawmakers spent years campaigning on the issue.

Some Republicans say Texas has already done its part, having spent $1.6 billion on state trooper patrols, border cameras, spy planes and other security measures since Abbott took office in 2015. The governor has also deployed the National Guard signed one of the nation's toughest "sanctuary city" bans in 2017.

Democrats, meanwhile, believe Republicans are course-correcting on the heels of the GOP's worst election in Texas in a generation, when Democrats picked up 12 seats in the Texas House behind Beto O'Rourke's near-upset of Cruz. Abbott fared better than most and won re-election by double-digits, but some polls showed him doing slightly worse among Hispanic voters than in 2014.

Texas currently has about 100 miles of barriers along the border with Mexico, which includes walls and fencing.

Asked about the wall in an interview with Corpus Christi television station KIII last week as Trump was in Texas, Abbott said "it's helpful whenever the president comes down" but did not weigh in on the current impasse.

"It's a fact that we have a porous border, it's a fact that we have already a wall in place in certain areas, it's a fact that fencing can work," Abbott said Thursday. "But it's also a fact that we have lost hundreds of Border Patrol agents who had been in the state of Texas who are now elsewhere that make Texas more vulnerable. So there are a lot of resources that Texas needs, and we're gonna make sure that we keep our state secure."

Judy Jackman, of Amarillo, tried leading a chant of "Build a Wall!" in the crowd before the inauguration began Tuesday. She said she was a little disappointed that Abbott didn't mention a wall in his address but said those around her still supported him.

"I think it will be a big topic," she said. "I don't know why it wasn't today."