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

Republican lawmakers are skeptical of a plan floated by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'Haven't thought about' pardons for Mueller target Pence: Rocket attack 'proves that Hamas is not a partner for peace' Conservation remains a core conservative principle 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 RubioTrump UN pick donated to GOP members on Senate Foreign Relations panel Nunes on Mueller report: 'We can just burn it up' 18 state attorneys general call on Justice Dept to release Mueller report 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 AlexanderRomney helps GOP look for new path on climate change GOP 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' 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 GrahamConservation remains a core conservative principle Graham: McCain 'acted appropriately' by handing Steele dossier to FBI The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems eye next stage in Mueller fight 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 ShelbyThis week: Congress set for next stage of Mueller probe fight Five 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 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.