Top Republican on House Armed Services panel opposes use of military funds for wall

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday said that he does not support using military funding to build President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE’s proposed border wall.

“In short, I am opposed to using defense dollars for nondefense purposes,” committee ranking member Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran Overnight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info MORE (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday. “Seems to me we ought to fund border security needs on their own and not be taking it from other accounts.“

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President Trump has floated declaring a national emergency in order to get funding to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval.

Wall funding has been at the heart of the partial government shutdown that is now in its 18th day. Trump is demanding $5 billion for the wall, but Democrats are not agreeing to that, having offered $1.3 billion for border security measures.

In the event of a national emergency, U.S. law allows for the use of unobligated military construction funding for projects that support the Armed Forces.

Lawmakers have said that law appears to give Trump the authority to use defense funding for the wall if he declares an emergency, but that the existence of an emergency would be challenged in court and taking Pentagon funding could harm the military.

Thornberry, who represents what some analysts have called the reddest congressional district in the country, said most of his constituents have told him during the shutdown to “build the wall.”

But, Thornberry said, military construction was “devastated” during years of budget austerity and dipping into that account for the wall would “obviously be damaging.”

“Last fall, I vividly remember touring a barracks with mold growing out of the ceiling where they had to evacuate the soldiers out of certain rooms,” he said. “And as much as we’ve done the last two years, we have not made up for that deficit in military construction that does affect readiness, that does affect the quality of life and all sorts of things. So to take some of that money and use it for something other than [military construction] will obviously be damaging, and I’m not for that.”

While border security could arguably be part of defending the country, he elaborated, it is not the responsibility of the Defense Department.

Instead, he said he wants the shutdown to end with negotiators meeting in the middle on the amount of funding for the wall.

“If this were a ‘normal’ controversy, one side says 'zero,' another side says 'five,' you meet in the middle at two and a half,” he said. “Those things get resolved that way every day around here.”

If Trump were to declare a national emergency to use defense funding for the wall, Thornberry said it is his understanding that the only way to stop that would be to pass a new law overriding current law.

“Obviously, Congress has oversight responsibilities for whatever action the executive branch takes,” he said. “But as far as can you stop it from happening, my impression is that you would have to pass a new law.”