U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the state’s only Republican member of Congress, has been one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters in New Mexico. Pearce stumped for Trump while other Republicans shunned him, and he’s backed some of the president’s most controversial proposals to roll back regulations on oil and gas drilling.
But when it comes to building a wall between the United States and Mexico, Trump’s signature campaign theme, Pearce said Thursday it will not work.
“You can come over it, under it, around it, through it,” Pearce said in an interview after addressing members of the New Mexico Legislature in Santa Fe.
Pearce has long criticized proposals to construct a barrier on the border with Mexico, which is also the southern boundary of his vast district, expressing skepticism that a wall or fence would improve nationals security.
The congressman’s comments underscore the deep divide over Trump’s proposal, a campaign promise that has remained a rallying cry among many Trump supporters even as it has drawn opposition from lawmakers of both parties representing border districts.
Pearce has called for enforcing existing immigration laws rather than relying on a physical barrier. On Thursday he added that securing the border would require more people and technology, rather than bricks and mortar.
Pearce’s comments came on the same day that he was appointed by U.S. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., to serve on the Mexico-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, an organization composed of delegates from both countries to encourage discussion of border trade, security and international crime.
“I am honored to have been chosen to serve with my colleagues in Congress as we work to uphold an enduring relationship between the United States and Mexico,” he said in a statement announcing the appointment. “I look forward to providing my firsthand knowledge of border issues that affect New Mexico’s safety, security, and prosperity, and will do my part to ensure the best interests of the United States are upheld.”
Pearce is one of three Republicans in Congress who represent districts along the border and have voiced concerns over Trump’s plan to build a wall.
One of the three is outright opposed to the wall. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican representing a swath of west Texas from San Antonio to the eastern outskirts of El Paso, has called a wall “the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”
With a district stretching from Tucson to the New Mexico border, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., has said a wall is “important where appropriate, but only part of the equation.”
New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has asked the Trump administration if it would buy state land near the border for construction of a wall, or negotiate a property trade.
Meanwhile, several Democrats in the state House of Representatives have introduced a bill to prohibit any such exchange.
Pearce was the last member of New Mexico’s congressional delegation to address the Legislature so far this session. But while the others, all Democrats, railed against Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his executive order banning refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Pearce tried to sell the new administration as good for business in New Mexico.
Saying that oil and gas are poised for a comeback in New Mexico after a dive in prices, Pearce told lawmakers he has already pitched the administration on building a refinery in the state. He also praised the president’s support for a slate of pipeline projects, including the Dakota Access Pipeline, which tribes in New Mexico have opposed.
Pearce expressed confidence in the prospects for the state’s national laboratories and also called for support in keeping New Mexico’s military bases open.
But Pearce, who could be a candidate for governor in 2018, struck a more conciliatory tone than other members of Congress who have addressed the Legislature this session by urging bipartisanship in the wake of the presidential election.
“If we’re to keep the stereotypical policies of the past, the bitterness of the election in our hearts — if that’s who we are, we should all quit,” he said.
Pearce would not say whether he is running for governor.
“We’re just trying to get our feet on the ground,” he said, referring to his recent re-election to Congress. “We’ll probably look at that later down the road.”