COEUR d'ALENE — Russ Fulcher has learned during his first seven weeks in Congress that the border security debate has no borders.
"The border security issue is not going away," the Idaho Republican representative said when asked by The Press on Wednesday to hit on the hottest topic he foresees in Washington in the coming months.
Fulcher last week joined Idaho's other congressional delegates in supporting a bill that funds government through the end of fiscal 2019. It provides about $22 billion in border security funding and $1.375 billion for a 55-mile border wall that Fulcher believes is critical for security and humanitarian purposes.
The legislation was passed by a large bipartisan vote in both the House and Senate, then signed into law by President Donald Trump.
"The president wanted that bill to pass because it's an acknowledgement by Congress about the need to appropriate funds," Fulcher said.
However, 16 states on Monday challenged Trump in court over his plan to use emergency powers to spend more on his border wall than Congress had granted him. The fight raises questions over congressional control of spending and the scope of emergency powers granted to the president.
"We knew (the lawsuit) was coming," Fulcher said, adding that he doesn't believe Idaho will be among the states to join the coalition.
Fulcher, who has not toured the border but plans to, said he believes the situation at the border is worthy of being called an emergency.
"We've been briefed extensively by a lot of colleagues," he said, adding that the data has been validated by non-governmental groups. "There has been a dramatic increase in drug trafficking stops and humanitarian issues."
Fulcher, who defeated Democrat Cristina McNeil during November's general election to win the Idaho congressional seat formerly held by Rep. Raul Labrador, said there has also been an increase in immigrant apprehensions at the border of those not just from Central America but from countries in the Middle East.
The appropriations law and the process to approve it are less than perfect, Fulcher said, but it provides funds critical for security and humanitarian purposes.
The bill includes full funding for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), which would result in Idaho counties receiving more than $30 million to fulfill the federal government’s responsibility to counties with tax-exempt federal lands.
Other components of the far-reaching law includes support for Israel, the blocking of federal funds used for abortions and wildfire suppression.
"It is unfortunate that bills like this contain such broad content," Fulcher said. "I am working hard to introduce a single-subject clause in Congress to avoid situations like this in the future."
Fulcher said the political climate in the House has him focusing on working with agencies on rule changes rather than proposing new laws.
"The majority party has made it clear that, unless you're a strong Democrat, they're not going to hear bills," he said.
Fulcher did join Idaho Republican Mike Simpson last month to introduce legislation that aims to address the state's judicial backlog. The bill requests the appointment of a federal district judge, increasing the state's total to three.
"There will be a hearing, but it's not scheduled yet," Fulcher said. "We've had a need (for another judge) for a long time."
Idaho is one of just three states with only two federal judges. It has retained that number since 1954 when the population was 600,000. The population is now 1.7 million and it continues to grow along with the number of court cases.
Since 2003, the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States has recommended that Congress authorize another judge in Idaho.
Fulcher was chosen to serve on the Natural Resources and Education and Labor committees. He said the Natural Resources Committee was his first pick due to its role in Idaho's economy and way of life.
"I will use this opportunity to encourage more flexibility and authority over local resource management practices," he said.
Fulcher said he knew before taking office that there are a lot of hostilities toward Trump by some agencies, officials and the media, but it's even more intense than he imagined.
"I don't think that's healthy no matter who the president is," he said. "There is a definite motive to get this guy out. I have never seen anything quite like it."
Author: Brian Walker
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