In a memo addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Patrick Shanahan, the Pentagon's acting defense secretary, confirmed that the Pentagon had transferred $1 billion in military personnel funding to construct President Donald Trump's proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The memo noted that the Department of Defense authorized the Army Corp of Engineers to begin planning and construction on 57 miles of fencing along the southern border, as well as improving roads in Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas.
The $1 billion in funding would help “block drug-smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of Federal law enforcement agencies,” the Pentagon said.
Democratic senators led by Patrick Leahy (VT) and Richard Durbin (IL) condemned the move in a letter addressed to Shanahan.
“We strongly object to both the substance of the funding transfer, and to the Department implementing the transfer without seeking the approval of the congressional defense committees and in violation of provisions in the defense appropriation itself,” the senators wrote. “As a result, we have serious concerns that the Department has allowed political interference and pet projects to come ahead of many near-term, critical readiness issues facing our military.”
"The 1 billion programming that the Department is implementing without Congressional approval constitutes a dollar-for-dollar theft from other readiness needs of our Armed Forces. As you are aware, each year, the military Services request billions in mid-year transfers to address unexpected shortfalls in paying for our troops, providing, training, maintaining their equipment, and accelerating new technologies."
The rejection, however, doesn't amount to much, as the Pentagon is permitted to continue the transfer as it sees fit.
Others also criticized the move.
The Pentagon's move comes a week after it disclosed the list of projects President Trump wants to divert funding from to pay for his proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the list, which the Defense Department provided to Congress on March 18, the military would take the biggest hits, with dozens, possibly hundreds, of military construction projects at risk of delay or cancellation as a result of the national emergency the president declared last month.
Speaking to CNN, Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said should acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan “determine that construction along the southwest border is necessary to aid the mission of military personnel supporting the Department of Homeland Security, some projects within this pool may be used to fund up to $3.6B in barrier construction.”
The list includes projects valued at $12.9 billion that are “unobligated.” This means that construction projects have yet to be awarded. Among the projects at risk of being slashed are $41 million for repairs to a heating system at Eielson Air Force Base outside Fairbanks, Alaska, and $17 million for a crash rescue station at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida. The Pentagon has provided minimal guidance as to which of these projects would be cut, however.
President Trump declared a national emergency last month, a move which allows him to access billions of dollars to construct a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border after Congress denied his requests for funding.
The president has been accused of manufacturing a crisis. In fact, his own reasoning was used against him.
“I could do the wall over a longer period of time,” he told NBC’s Peter Alexander when asked about his prior statements on the merits of executive orders, which he had long accused former President Barack Obama of using to circumvent the decisions of Congress. “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”
As he continued to speak during the news conference, the president outlined what would happen next:
“We will have a national emergency. And we will then be sued… And we will possibly get a bad ruling. And then we will get another bad ruling. And then we will end up in the Supreme Court.”
The declaration of a national emergency is the culmination of a long fight over funding for the president’s pet project that resulted in a shutdown that kicked off in December 2018 after he declined to sign a stopgap funding bill because he disagreed with the decision of Congress not to provide the funding he’d requested for his proposed border wall. As the shutdown wore on, he insisted that it was simply a ploy by Democrats to cost him re-election.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed in an effort to halt the president’s national emergency declaration. Last week, Congress passed a bipartisan measure blocking the declaration, but Trump vetoed the measure on March 15. It was the first veto of his presidency. Although the Democrat-led House is scheduled to vote today on overriding the president's veto, their efforts are not expected to succeed. Only 13 Republicans sided with Democrats during the original vote, which left the veto intact.