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

Republican lawmakers are skeptical of a plan floated by President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt 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 RubioDemocrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships GOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden 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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain 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 GrahamThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks 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 ShelbyDemocrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch Overnight Defense: Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill | House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors | US increases airstrikes to help Afghan forces fight Taliban On The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year 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.