LUMBERTON — When is a wall not a wall? When it is a euphemism.
Speaking at Lumberton High School earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger told students that President Donald Trump never intended to wall-off Mexico, but rather was speaking plainly about border security.
Talking to an advanced placement civics class, Pittenger took 40 minutes of questions about the president, education, immigration and more. The Robesonian followed up on Tuesday with the Republican congressman and asked his thoughts about the issues brought up by the 10th-graders.
Many of the class members’ questions focused on President Trump’s most controversial policies, campaign promises and tweets.
Pittenger described the building of a wall on the southern border of the United States by the Trump administration as “a euphemism” rather than a plan to build a physical structure.
“The wall clearly expresses the intent, we must secure the southern border,” Pittenger said. “I think he was conveying that to the American people and letting them know in the simplest, clearest terms.”
The congressman believes Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall in order to block immigrants crossing the southern border illegally was a metaphor for locking down the area through a combination of means.
“When you get into it, it would be impossible because of the topography,” Pittenger said.
The native Texan gave as example areas such as Big Bend National Park where cliffs and mountains straddle the border.
Pittenger believes the “wall” includes use of satellite tracking and other technologies to bar illegal immigration and that this was always the Trump administration’s intent.
“I think you’d better let him play out his cards,” the congressman said. “I don’t second-guess Donald Trump. He’s a pretty bright guy.”
While he believes Trump to be bright, Pittenger does not believe his first attempt at a travel ban was.
“I think the first one was done with good intentions but it wasn’t well thought through,” he said. “It was his first week in office and I just think they were trying to get something out. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but he did it.”
The second effort to impose a travel ban has the support of Pittenger, who feels the revamped order is more accurately targeted.
“He made some modifications to it and I think it is going to be acceptable now,” Pittenger said. “Hopefully it will pass muster with the federal court.”
Education was a significant topic for the students. The daughter of an educator passionately asked why a businesswoman with no experience in education and who never sent her children to a public school was picked to lead the U.S. Department of Education.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a cabinet selection Pittenger believes can bring about change to education in the United States.
“I think it’s the core belief that I’m interested in,” he said. “If someone comes into education and has a narrow view … a one-size-fits-all government funded system, I am troubled by that.”
Better to have someone in office who believes multiple forces affect and help shape a better educational system, he said.
“I believe in that,” Pittenger said. “Ms. DeVos believes that and I support that.”
Pittenger said he is a friend to the DeVos family. The self-described federalist is a believer in market forces bringing about change in systems, including education.
“When you create a market for that individual, there are others who will come along and create cost-effective ways of delivering education,” he said. “We must look at the overall problem. We are ranked 19th in the world in education … Do we accept the status quo? No. We should be able to do better.”
Pittenger expressed a belief in charter school programs and homeschooling as viable, economical alternatives for children of all income levels.
“For far too long the teachers’ union has controlled education. We need to give options to families,” he said.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly