Dems urge Mattis to reject using $450M for border wall

Dems urge Mattis to reject using $450M for border wall
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Four top House Democrats are urging the Pentagon to reject a request from the Department of Homeland Security to use $450 million to enhance an existing segment of the U.S.–Mexico border wall and to build new border infrastructure at a military range in Arizona.

“In countless hearings and briefings this year we have heard from senior civilian and military leadership on the readiness challenges our military currently faces,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Trump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book MORE on Wednesday that was publicly released Thursday.

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“We have heard about the Department of Defense's plans to rebuild military readiness, to include investing in additional spare parts and maintenance, increasing training opportunities, growing certain military occupational specialties, and modernizing aging weapons systems," they continued. "We have also heard the repeated calls from the Department for stable and predictable funding. With that in mind, we fail to see how diverting $450 million away from efforts to rebuild military readiness is in the department or the taxpayers’ best interests.”

The lawmakers argued that it would be inappropriate to use funds on a border wall at a time when 31 percent of Pentagon facilities are in "poor or failing condition" and the department has a facilities maintenance backlog totaling $116 billion.

“Funding the requested border infrastructure project may divert resources away from authorized and appropriated military construction projects, deferring critical investments to meet new mission requirements or replacing failing infrastructure,” they wrote.

The letter, signed by Reps. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyMixed feelings on war power limits: Lawmakers and vet candidates US officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  House revives agenda after impeachment storm MORE (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee; Peter ViscloskyPeter John ViscloskyTrump's emergency declaration looms over Pentagon funding fight Dems urge Mattis to reject using 0M for border wall House votes to prevent military base closures MORE (D-Ind.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee; and Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzUS officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  Appropriators fume over reports of Trump plan to reprogram .2 billion for wall American Cancer Society says Trump doesn't get credit for drop in cancer deaths MORE (D-Fla.), ranking member of the House Appropriations military construction subcommittee, also raised concerns that Congress did not authorize or appropriate military construction funds for a wall.

“We note that military construction projects that exceed the minor construction threshold require line-item authorization and appropriation by Congress,” they wrote. “Congress has not provided an authorization or appropriation for a border infrastructure military construction project and we do not believe the scope or justification for the project warrants the use of emergency construction authorities or consideration outside of the annual authorization and appropriations process.”

The lawmakers questioned the prioritization of such funding for the border wall segment and asked Mattis about what "statutory authority" would be used to finance the infrastructure.

Instead of putting the $450 million toward the 31 miles of border infrastructure, the lawmakers wrote, "the Department of Defense should focus its time and resources on infrastructure needs that address the military readiness shortfalls that have been repeatedly highlighted by civilian and military leadership."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE first raised the possibility of using Pentagon funding for the wall in March, amid frustration that Congress had not yet funded his proposed wall along the southern border.

Shortly afterward, a Pentagon spokeswoman confirmed that the department was looking at the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range as a possible place to build a stretch of wall. The land is a bombing range near the U.S.–Mexico border in Wellton, Ariz.

In their letter, the Democrats said the Department of Homeland Security sent the Pentagon a request last month “to enhance existing border fencing and construct new border infrastructure” along 31 miles of the range.

“With an estimated cost of $450 million, we write to express our strong opposition to the use of Department of Defense funds for this purpose and respectfully urge you to deny the Department of Homeland Security’s request,” they wrote.