McCain says a wall alone is not enough to secure border

WASHINGTON – One day after President-elect Donald Trump promised to start working “immediately” on a wall on the Mexico border, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said a wall alone would not be sufficient to secure the border.

McCain, speaking to reporters Thursday, made the comment in response to a question about Trump’s statement a day earlier that Vice President-elect Mike Pence had already started working to secure the legislative and agency approvals needed to start on the wall.

McCain said he has not spoken with Pence, but that it will take “a lot more than walls” to close the border.

“I know what it takes to have border security,” McCain said during a break in the hearing on James Mattis’ nomination to be Trump’s secretary of Defense. “It’s a lot more than walls … it’s surveillance, it’s electronics, it’s interception teams, it’s a broad mosaic.”

McCain went on to say that Trump’s nominee for Homeland Security secretary, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, “understands all that very well.” McCain introduced Kelly at a Senate confirmation hearing earlier this week.

Attempts to contact the Trump transition team were not immediately returned Thursday.

But in his first news conference since the election, Trump on Wednesday reiterated the pledge that became a cornerstone of his campaign rallies: to a wall on the southern border and make Mexico pay for it. And Trump said his administration is already working on it.

“I could wait about a year and a half until we finish our negotiations with Mexico, which will start immediately after we get to office, but I don’t want to wait,” Trump said at the news conference televised from the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City, where he has been planning the transition.

“Mike Pence is leading an effort to get final approvals through various agencies and through Congress for the wall to begin,” Trump said. “I don’t feel like waiting a year or year and a half. We’re going to start building.”

He went on to say that Mexico will end up bearing the cost of a wall “in some form, and there are many different forms.”

“They will reimburse us for the cost of a wall. That will happen,” Trump said. “Whether it’s a tax or a payment. Probably less likely that it’s a payment. It will happen.”

When asked whether he thought that the build-the-wall pledges was just an empty campaign promise, McCain demurred.

“I don’t know. I’ll let you be the judge,” he said.

Mattis’ hearing was the latest in a series of Senate hearings since Congress returned last week on Trump nominees, with most Cabinet-level leadership positions already identified by the transition team.

-Cronkite News video by Marisela Ramirez