GOP bristles over plan to shift military funding to border wall

GOP concerns are bubbling up over the administration's plans to divert billions in military construction money as part of President TrumpDonald John TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report MORE's national emergency declaration.

As part of an effort to pull together roughly $8 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, the administration will redirect $3.6 billion originally appropriated for military construction projects across the country.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump’s decision has sparked bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill, where Republicans are openly concerned that the president is blurring the separation of powers and attempting to override Congress’s government funding decisions.

GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' MORE (Maine) told reporters to “keep in mind the irony” of the president deciding to take money away from military construction projects that were part of his previous budget requests.

“We had military leaders come before us and make the case for each of these projects as being vital to our national security and it seems to me very shortsighted and harmful to our national security … for that money to be used for other purposes,” she said.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Overnight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at 'financial risk' Trump signs executive order on campus free speech MORE (R-Tenn.), during a floor speech, also urged Trump to rethink his emergency declaration and reshuffle more money from the Pentagon’s counter-drug accounts rather than military construction.

“Using funds already approved by Congress avoids taking money from military construction projects specifically approved by Congress for such activities as military barracks and hospitals,” he said.

Senators say they are in the dark about where the administration will shuffle money from and if projects in their home states will, at least temporarily, be put on hold. The limbo status comes as the Senate is poised to vote on a resolution this month that would block Trump’s emergency declaration. 

Trump has threatened to veto the resolution, potentially setting up a conflict between the president and his party.

“I think it's clear that people want to see the final documentation and they want to know the specific statutory basis,” said Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), who is expected to back Trump. 

To pass the resolution blocking the declaration, Democrats would need to flip four Republican senators. So far, three have said they will support the resolution and several from different factions of the caucus remain undecided and have voiced concerns about the administration’s actions.

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked how they would vote on the resolution of disapproval, both Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonScott Walker considering running for Wisconsin governor or Senate: report GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers The Hill's 12:30 Report: O'Rourke jumps into 2020 fray MORE (R-Wis.) and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP senators eye 'nuclear' move to change rules on Trump nominees Senate GOP goes down to wire in showdown with Trump MORE (R-Okla.) demurred, noting that they hadn’t yet seen a detailed list indicating from where the White House plans to divert funds.

Republicans raised concerns about tapping military construction accounts, as well as the administration’s broader legal strategy, during a closed-door lunch with Vice President Pence and Justice Department officials this week.

“That was the sentiment generally expressed, that we want to see what it's coming out of,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 MORE (R-Texas), asked if Republicans need to see details on the military construction funding before the Senate votes.

But the administration is trying to sooth questions from lawmakers by noting the funds could be "backfilled" during the upcoming appropriations cycle, if Congress agrees.

Several Republican senators emerged from the closed-door lunch saying the administration was pledging to ask to replenish the military construction accounts as part of the fiscal 2020 funding bills, which need to be passed by Oct. 1.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFive takeaways from Trump's budget Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Trump unveils 2020 budget | Calls for cuts to NIH | Proposes user fees on e-cigs | Azar heads to Capitol to defend blueprint | Key drug price bill gets hearing this week Trump's emergency declaration looms over Pentagon funding fight MORE (R-Ala.) said he stood up during the lunch and told his colleagues that one of his “highest priorities” would be to replace any funding taken from military construction projects.

Robert McMahon, an assistant secretary of Defense, separately told House lawmakers that no military construction projects that had been authorized would be canceled because of the emergency declaration.

“While some may be deferred, the budget request will include a request for funds to replenish these accounts,” he said during a House Appropriations Committee meeting.

He added that to protect military readiness, the Pentagon will look to delay projects that “pose no or minimal operational readiness risks if deferred,” as well as those scheduled to be awarded in the last six months of the fiscal year and “recapitalization projects of existing facilities that can temporarily be deferred for a period of months.”

Pentagon officials have not yet told lawmakers what projects they expect to be impacted. McMahon added that they were still waiting to hear from the Department of Homeland Security on how it would spend the defense dollars. The Defense Department is in the process of identifying what military construction funds could be moved and what projects would be delayed.

The White House announced that along with an emergency declaration, Trump would reshuffle $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s drug-interdiction programs. But in a potential hurdle, defense officials say there is currently less than $80 million that could be used for the wall from that funding pot. 

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: DC moves closer to climate lawsuit against Exxon | Dems call for ethics investigation into Interior officials | Inslee doubles down on climate in 2020 bid Dem lawmakers call for investigation into Interior officials over alleged ethics violations The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison MORE (D-N.M.) argued that the gap in funding means if the president wanted to reach the $8 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, that could result in taking more from military construction.

“We should be prepared for a raid on other accounts or even taking even more from military construction funding. These are military construction funds that Congress already has appropriated for specific projects necessary to support the national security priorities of the United States,” he said.

Udall added that that national emergency could be put funding at risk even in red states, where senators are likely to oppose attempts to block Trump’s declaration. He noted that $210 million in military construction projects could be at risk in Florida, $520 million in Texas, $81 million in Utah “and the list goes on an on.”

To replenish the money as part of the 2020 fiscal year funding bills, the administration would need Democrats to agree to include extra money that offsets Trump’s emergency declaration.

Shelby predicted that they would ultimately go along with the plan, even if they opposed the emergency declaration.

“I hope they would be because it affects the national security,” he said. “And it might affect their districts.”

Ellen Mitchell contributed.