Dems seek House panel's support to block military funds for Trump border wall

Dems seek House panel's support to block military funds for Trump border wall
© Anne Wernikoff

A group of House Democrats is pushing a key Democratic chairman to back their efforts to block President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE from using future military funds to build his proposed border wall.

Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Progressives hope to avoid drug-pricing showdown with Pelosi | 'Medicare for All' backers get high-profile hearing | Dems take victory lap after eliminating drug protections in trade deal 'Medicare for All' backers notch win with high-profile hearing Democrats declare victory for eliminating drug protections in trade deal MORE (D-Ill.) and other Democrats have signed onto a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons House passes defense bill to establish Space Force, paid family leave for federal workers Pentagon leaders: Trump clemencies won't affect military order and discipline MORE (D-Wash.) seeking his support for the effort.

The letter states that Trump should be prevented from "utilizing military resources for the construction of a wasteful and senseless border wall by declaring a national emergency."

It adds that the House panel "should prioritize including restrictions” in the upcoming fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prevent Trump from taking future military money for the wall and asks Smith to "continue to signal your intent to impose strong restriction in the NDAA."

The letter currently has 36 signatures and the group is calling for more colleagues to sign.

Trump has indicated he may declare a national emergency in order to direct military funds for construction of his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Democrats have eyed filing a lawsuit if Trump declared such an emergency, but it's unclear what move Democrats could take to preempt him from carrying out such a plan.

Smith said this month that Trump has the authority to declare an emergency, while arguing that it would be a "terrible" decision and he would face legal challenges.

"This would be a terrible use of Department of Defense dollars," Smith said earlier this month on ABC's "This Week."

"The president spends most of his time talking about how we’re not spending enough on national security. Now he wants to take $20 billion out of the defense budget to build a wall, which by the way is not going to improve our border security.”

The chairman said Trump’s insistence on building a wall and his talk of an immigration crisis at the southern border is "rooted in xenophobia and racism."

The federal government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22 as Democrats and Trump remain in a stalemate over the president's demand for more than $5 billion for a border wall.

Democrats who signed the letter to Smith said if Trump declared an emergency to build a wall, it would be a “dangerous and unprecedented move and an abuse of executive power.” 

Trump declaring an emergency to build the wall would essentially allow the government to reopen, as Senate Republicans have so far refused to bring up House-passed funding bills because they didn't include wall funding.

Congress and the White House have since made little if any progress to end the record-setting 26-day shutdown – which keeps roughly 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are wary, however, in using military funds to build Trump’s wall.

“We ask as you form your committee and begin initial consideration of the [fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act], that you work to assure the President and Secretary of Defense cannot utilize a fake ‘national emergency’ to coopt the military into the construction of the President’s wall,” the letter to Smith states. 

“As you know the Constitution gives the House the power to appropriate federal funds. Spending funds on a wall Congress has not authorized is a violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act as well as a violation of separation of powers.”

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryHouse passes defense bill to establish Space Force, paid family leave for federal workers The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today Former White House physician Ronny Jackson to run for Congress MORE (Texas), has also said he does not support using military funds or the wall.

“In short, I am opposed to using defense dollars for nondefense purposes,” committee ranking member Thornberry told reporters last week. “Seems to me we ought to fund border security needs on their own and not be taking it from other accounts.”

– This story was updated at 3:15 p.m.