U.S. Sen. Martha McSally with Art Del Cueto, president of the local chapter of the Border Patrol union.

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally met with customs agents working without pay in Nogales on Tuesday, telling the federal workers impacted by the shutdown that she is working hard to reopen the government.

Standing a few feet away from a 14-foot-high border wall after meeting with about 150 customs agents, the Tucson Republican told reporters that she wanted to visit with Customs and Border Protection agents to gauge their morale during the longest federal shutdown in U.S. history.

“I was looking them in the eye and doing a moral check, letting them know that I am standing with them at this time and trying to find a path forward,” McSally said. “I am really grateful that they are coming here to work.”

More than a month into the shutdown, McSally refused to comment on any specific bill that the Senate is expected to vote on later this week. However, she stressed that she supports both reopening the federal government and the $5.7 billion request made by President Trump for border security.

She said she wasn’t familiar with two separate pieces of legislation expected to be introduced this week, one that includes border security funding and one that does not.

“Before I tell you how I am going to vote on anything, I’m going to look over the legislation,” McSally told reporters. “We’ve got to get something that will go through the House as well and something that the president will sign.”

She added that the Senate hasn’t voted on any proposal related to the shutdown.

“I have not been given an opportunity to vote on anything on this,” McSally said.

Noting that any legislation to reopen the government will need 60 votes in the Senate, McSally said she is challenging her colleagues to find common ground on the issue.

“This is not a game for me, and I want to fund the government and border security,” McSally said. “I am trying to break through this impasse in any way I can.”

The retired Air Force colonel praised Trump’s offer to end the government shutdown, calling it “a good first step.”

She conceded that the 14-foot wall she was standing in front of, ringed with concertina wire a few weeks ago, would not be replaced under the $5.7 billion request.

The press conference was held just east of the main Nogales port of entry.

Local leaders, including Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino, asked McSally to remove the wire because it is hurting tourism. It was put up late last year ahead of a caravan of Central Americans headed to the U.S.

McSally said she brought it up with federal officials on Tuesday, saying she didn’t have the authority to take it down.

Concerning the shutdown, McSally repeatedly stressed that border security wasn’t always a political hot-button issue, noting that many Democrats still in Congress supported increased security — including new border walls.

In visiting with customs agents, McSally praised the men and women working at the border — noting they remain focused despite the shutdown.

She said Customs and Border Protection supervisors told her they are concerned about younger, newer agents on the lower end of the pay scale and how they are going to pay their bills.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson


Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.