Trump taking US$3.8 billion from military to fund border wall

Nellie Chapman
February 14, 2020

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee issued a sharp rebuke of President Donald Trump Thursday, slamming the administration's plan to divert $3.83 billion in Pentagon funding to border wall construction as unconstitutional and pledging to take action after lawmakers were notified of the move by the Department of Defense.

Trump promised to build the wall along most of the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) US-Mexico border-paid for by Mexico-during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Bob Salesses, the deputy assistant defense secretary, told reporters on Thursday that the funds are meant to help build 30-foot fencing on federally-controlled land in six border areas: San Diego and El Centro, California; Yuma and Tuscon, Arizona, and El Paso and Del Rio, Texas.

The Department of Defense money was originally meant to pay for "new aircraft, naval ships, and equipment for the National Guard", the Wall Street Journal reported.

Amazon is in the middle of a lawsuit against the Defense Department, accusing President Trump of "repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks to steer" the Pentagon's Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract toward Microsoft in order to "harm his perceived political enemy", Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

In the case of the F-35, for instance, the Pentagon said "current funding is more than sufficient to keep the current production line open and meet requirements".

The Pentagon suggested that the $3.6 billion in military construction funds it was diverting to border barriers a year ago would be "backfilled" by Congress, potentially leading to no delays in the projects that were defunded. And he has used various transfer and emergency authorities to shift nearly $7 billion more from the emergency declaration, a forfeiture fund containing money seized by law enforcement, and funding for military counter-drug activities.

Around $3.8 billion will be transferred from existing Defense Department funds into a counter-narcotics account that will then be used to build 177 new miles of border wall in federally controlled land along the four southwestern border states, according to officials. "But their policy simply does not match their rhetoric", House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in a statement. Esper approved a portion of that.

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Past year the Pentagon cut funding from projects such as schools, target ranges and maintenance facilities across 23 states, 19 countries and three US territories.

No funding for domestic military housing projects was diverted to the wall, instead the Pentagon delayed more than a hundred overseas construction projects and shifted money from projects that had not yet been contracted out for future construction. The move, which affected numerous projects in Republican districts and states, triggered outrage on Capitol Hill.

Trump's action comes less than two months after he signed a huge appropriations package into law and just days after the administration unveiled its fiscal 2021 budget.

The Navy Expeditionary Fast Transport ship program ($261 million).

Trump's fiscal 2021 budget, released only Monday, contains a $2 billion request for the wall, less than Trump asked for past year, which reflected the fact that Trump has more money for the wall than can be spent immediately.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee called the wall a "vanity" project.

"Congress has the constitutional responsibility to determine how defense dollars are spent".

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