The move is likely to further inflame Democrats who have accused the administration of illegally overriding Congress’ spending decisions.
The Trump administration is carrying out plans to raid $3.6 billion in military construction projects to build the border wall, further inflaming lawmakers who have accused President Donald Trump of illegally overriding Congress’ spending decisions.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper informed congressional leaders on Tuesday of the cash grab from a total of 127 military projects. Roughly half the money will come from funds previously dedicated to upgrading military bases abroad and the other half in the United States.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Esper told him some of the money will come from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in his home state of New York.
“It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build,” Schumer said in a statement.
Trump declared a national emergency in February in order to divert $8 billion from various federal accounts to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a Treasury Department fund and Defense Department efforts to interdict illegal drugs.
Tuesday’s announcement comes on top of $2.5 billion the Pentagon already diverted from its budget toward the border barrier this spring over objections from leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees.
In a letter to Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Tuesday, Esper detailed 11 border projects on the U.S.-Mexico border that the diverted funds will now finance.
The barriers, Esper contended, will allow military personnel that have been deployed to the border to beef up security to focus on areas that don’t have physical barriers.
“In short, these barriers will allow DoD to provide support to DHS more efficiently and effectively,” Esper wrote. “In this respect, the contemplated construction projects are force multipliers.”
In total, the military construction budget will fund 175 miles of border wall — a combination of new barricades and improvements to existing structures. The earliest construction could begin in about 100 days, Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon’s acting comptroller, told reporters.
She added that the first projects are likely to begin on land owned by the military, including the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range along the border in Arizona.
The roster of 127 projects the Pentagon is targeting to pay for the border wall has been winnowed down from a much longer list of $12.9 billion worth of projects in dozens of states, as well as several locations overseas.
The Pentagon is expected to release a list of all impacted projects on Wednesday, after it notifies lawmakers whose districts will be affected, as well as officials in foreign countries where projects are being deferred, according to Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson.
However, the military construction projects being raided do not include family housing, military barracks and projects that have already been awarded or are expected to be awarded in fiscal 2019, Hoffman said. He also added that the $1.8 billion from domestic projects will become available only when the $1.8 billion from international projects has been used up.
Defense officials said they also hope Congress will appropriate more money to backfill the military construction projects that get cut. “The way we’re describing it is deferred. They’re definitely not canceled," McCusker said of the military construction projects being raided.
Nevertheless, other Democrats in Congress also swiftly rebuked the decision. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who oversees military construction funding in the House, warned that the Trump administration “is about to weaken our national security by stealing billions from our military," including training for soldiers and schools for military families.
“I reminded his Admin today that I will not support this theft from our military," Wasserman Schultz wrote on Twitter. “Trump can pander to his nativist base, but the House will fight his every attempt to make our military families or national security suffer as a result.”
A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Esper on Tuesday demanding more details. “We are opposed to this decision and the damage it will cause to our military and the relationship between Congress and the Department of Defense,” the senators wrote. “We also expect a full justification of how the decision to cancel was made for each project selected and why a border wall is more important to our national security and the well-being of our service members and their families than these projects.”
In response to the news, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) also taunted Trump in a tweet, writing eight times that “Trump promised Mexico would pay” for his campaign pledge to build a border wall.
The move is also expected to draw ire of Republicans — at least privately. Lawmakers in both parties have consistently warned the Pentagon against raiding the defense budget for a border wall — a move they fear will hurt military readiness.
The Trump administration previously angered congressional Democrats by deploying thousands of troops to help secure the southern border.
It’s possible some of those troops on the border could return home once the wall is erected, Army Lt. Gen. Andrew Poppas, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. Having more effective barricades could reduce the need for military personnel to patrol those portions of the border, Hoffman added.
But Congress isn’t the only interested party expected to put up a fight over Trump’s latest move.
The American Civil Liberties Union said after the announcement that it plans to file a motion to block the transfer of the money. The ACLU is representing the Sierra Club and border advocates in a related federal lawsuit in California.
“The fact that the government sat on these so-called ‘emergency funds’ for seven months further confirms that this is nothing but an unlawful power grab. We’ll be back in court very soon to block Trump’s latest effort to raid military funds for his xenophobic wall," Dror Ladin, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.