Trump's plan to take DOD funds for wall meets bipartisan opposition

By Tony Bertuca / February 13, 2020 at 3:49 PM

A key House Republican joined Democrats in blasting the Defense Department today for diverting $3.8 billion in weapons funding to construct President Trump's wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"The reprogramming announced today is contrary to Congress's constitutional authority, and I believe that it requires Congress to take action," House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said in a statement.

"I will be working with my colleagues to determine the appropriate steps to take," he continued.

Thornberry, who is retiring from Congress at the end of the year, said he believes there is a national emergency at the southern border, but stressed Trump's wall should be funded by the Department of Homeland Security, rather than "diverting critical military resources that are needed and in law."

The Pentagon notified Congress today it plans to divert $3.8 billion to the wall from several major weapon systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the V-22 Osprey. The money would be transferred into a DOD counterdrug account, where it can then be used for the wall.

Thornberry said it is Congress' constitutional responsibility to decide how defense dollars are spent.

"We take the Pentagon's recommendations seriously during our deliberations, but the final decisions are contained in the bills passed by Congress and signed into law," he said. "Once those choices have been made, the Department of Defense cannot change them in pursuit of their own priorities without the approval of Congress. Attempts to do so undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution."

It is unclear what actions Congress could take to block the president, as courts have ruled that money transferred into DOD's counter-drug account can be used to build the wall.

Democrats, meanwhile, have long opposed Trump's wall as well as his use of DOD funds to build it.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) criticized Trump for being "obsessed” with a campaign promise at the expense of national security.

"The president loves to take credit for 'rebuilding' the military, but today's reprogramming decision does the exact opposite -- it will prevent the acquisition of critical ships, vehicles, and aircraft," Smith said in a statement.

He noted that $1.3 billion of the diverted funding will be taken from National Guard and reserve equipment, an account traditionally prized by Congress.

"The Trump Administration claims that every military decision they make is in support of the National Defense Strategy, and that their primary focus is the great power competition with Russia and China," Smith said. "But their policy simply does not match their rhetoric. Rather than investing in the procurement of critical platforms, this administration would rather dump another $3.8 billion into a wall on our southern border."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called on Republicans to help block the funds from being spent on the wall.

"Let us see whether congressional Republicans will brush off this diversion of funds from military programs that they support, or continue the inaction that has led this president to become increasingly brazen," he said. "Congressional Democrats have objected to this time and again. Votes have been taken to stop this abuse time and again. It is clear where the responsibility lies."

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) and Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, released a joint statement urging Republicans to "stand up to the president."

"While some of our Republican colleagues will lament the president's decision, they enabled this theft by blocking our efforts to stop the president from raiding defense accounts," they said.

"Until they stand up to President Trump, our national security will continue to be threatened and our Constitutional system of government will continue to be undermined."

But House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX) said she supports Trump’s “reasonable approach.”

"I unequivocally support President Trump’s efforts to secure our nation’s borders and support our men and women in uniform,” she said. “Democrats have refused to work with us on border security, which has forced the president to redirect funds from other defense programs in the short term in order to secure the southern border. The president has come up with a reasonable approach that will provide the funding necessary to address the border crisis without jeopardizing our national security.”

Granger also said she has “confidence” the cuts will not hurt jobs in her district, where Lockheed Martin makes the F-35 and a team of Boeing and Textron make the V-22 Osprey, two systems scheduled to take millions in cuts to pay for the wall.

"I will continue to fight to fund all of the defense programs that are so vital to our nation and the men and women who build them, while supporting the president’s efforts to secure our southern border,” she said.

Democrats were unsuccessful last year in attempts to block Trump's diversion of more than $6 billion of defense funds to the wall, with $3.6 billion coming from deferred military construction projects.

Congress also agreed to provide an additional $1.4 billion for the wall in fiscal year 2020 as part of a broader budget compromise.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is seeking $2 billion in wall funds for the Department of Homeland Security as part of the regular FY-21 appropriations process.