Republicans skeptical of Trump’s plan to have military build the wall

Republican lawmakers are skeptical of a plan floated by President TrumpDonald John TrumpJuan Williams: AOC fever shows appetite for new politics Judd Gregg: Sauntering into anarchy Civil rights group marks MLK Day with call for 'Trump card' national ID MORE to have the military build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or repurpose defense funds to pay for it. 

Trump on Tuesday tweeted that he would order military personnel to complete construction of border fencing and barriers if Democratic leaders refuse his request to provide $5 billion for construction of a border wall.

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“If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall. They know how important it is!” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.

Trump had previously floated in private conversations with GOP lawmakers the idea of repurposing defense funding to help build the wall, but the idea was greeted with skepticism, according to Senate GOP sources.

“There was a discussion of it, but on the question of how to work it there are a lot of closed doors,” said a GOP lawmaker familiar with internal discussions about repurposing defense funding to build the wall. 

GOP lawmakers worry that agreeing with Trump’s plan would cede significant spending authority to the executive branch and set a bad precedent. They are also concerned about how it might impact defense spending priorities. 

“What would [the Defense Department] give up to pay for that?” said the GOP lawmaker. “That’s the question.”

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWashington fears new threat from 'deepfake' videos Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal MORE (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said there is legal uncertainty about whether Trump could repurpose defense funding. 

“If the president has the authority to do it legally, if he has the authority to do it, I would think politically it’s one of his key campaign promises and he would want to keep it. But I don’t know if he has the legal authority and I’m not sure what kind of friction that would create with appropriators around here in future negotiations on other topics.” 

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell blocks House bill to reopen government for second time Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks GOP senators propose bill to pay 'excepted' workers during shutdown MORE (R-Tenn.), a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said he wants to wait to see if Trump’s idea has any legs. 

“I will wait until the idea moves from the level of a tweet to a specific proposal and then I’ll think about it,” he said.  

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamExperts warn of persistent ISIS threat after suicide bombing Graham: Trump should meet Pakistan's leader to reset relations State of American politics is all power games and partisanship MORE (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s staunchest allies in the Senate, predicted there would be “institutional pushback” if the president attempts to reprogram defense money for borders security.

“It’s better to go through Congress,” he said. “We repurpose money all the time but you have to get it approved, generally speaking. I think there’ll be an institutional pushback against a unilateral repurposing."

“It’s not about Trump,” Graham, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, added. “I think there will be some concern — it’s got nothing to do with the wall, I clearly support the wall — is whether or not the body would feel comfortable with that.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-Ala.) said Trump “has under the Constitution, as commander in chief, a duty to defend, to protect the borders.”

Asked if Trump had the power to reprogram funding, Shelby replied, “depends what he wanted to do.”

“He has some latitude but I don’t know how much latitude,” he added. 

Updated: 12:33 p.m.