President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency allowing his administration to use billions of dollars towards constructing a wall along the southern border, including $6 billion in funds from the Pentagon’s military construction and drug interdiction accounts.
A senior White House official told reporters the $8 billion accrued for the border wall is broken up between $1.375 billion included in a spending bill the president signed Friday, $3.6 billion from DoD’s military construction budget, approximately $2.5 billion pulled from Pentagon drug interdiction program and $600 million from the Treasury department’s drug forfeiture fund.
“We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border. We’re going to do it one way or the other, we have to do it,” President Trump during his remarks. “I’m going to be signing a national emergency.”
White House officials told reporters the $3.6 billion from military construction is the only portion of the funds that required a national emergency to be declared.
“We will be looking at lower priority military construction projects. We would be looking at ones that are to fix or repair particular facilities that might be able to wait a couple of months into next year,” they said.
Officials did not specify which military construction programs would have funds transferred to the wall construction effort. Those projects can include such things as military family housing and building hospitals.
Trump indicated that he had spoken to military officials and said the projects that the original programs the money was planned to be used for “didn’t sound too important to me.”
“We have certain funds that are being used at the discretion of generals, at the discretion of the military. Some of them haven’t been allocated yet. And some of the generals think that this is more important,” Trump said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said this week he would prefer the administration to pull funds from the Army Corps of Engineers rather than the military construction budget.
White House officials told reporters that Army Corps of Engineers’ funds dedicated for prevention projects are “not on the table currently.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sent a letter Friday to Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan expressing concern over the use of military construction funds for the border and a lack of information on programs that will be affected.
“President Trump’s unilateral action would divert nearly one-third of the military construction funds provided to you this past year. Just this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings on abysmal conditions that military families face on bases across the country including lead contamination, black mold exposure and rodent infestations,” Kaine wrote. “I am concerned that a project the president stated would be paid for by Mexico will now be borne by military servicemembers and their families, as they will be forced to remain in ‘poor’ or ‘failing’ conditions.”
Kaine, in his letter, noted DoD officials last April testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the department had a maintenance backlog of over $116 billion.
DoD officials said the $2.5 billion drawn from drug interdiction funds is authorized under an authority to support the counterdrug activities of other federal agencies, “including DHS, with the construction of roads, fences, and lighting to block drug smuggling corridors across international boundaries.”
“DoD will review and respond appropriately to any request for assistance received from DHS,” officials wrote in a statement.
During his remarks, Trump indicated that he intended to use the national emergency as a way to speed up the process of constructing a wall along the border, and predicted the declaration would face an immediate challenge.
“We will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued. And they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, even though it shouldn’t be there. And we will possibly get a bad ruling. And then we’ll get another bad ruling. And then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court. And hopefully we’ll get a fair shake, and we’ll win the Supreme Court. Just like the [travel] ban,” Trump said.