Top general dodges on justification for Trump emergency declaration

Top general dodges on justification for Trump emergency declaration
© UPI Photo

The general in charge of U.S. military operations in North America dodged questions on Tuesday on what specific threat at the southern border justifies President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE declaring a national emergency.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command (Northcom), was asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) whether there is a national emergency at the border.

ADVERTISEMENT

O’Shaughnessy replied by citing the fact that Trump has declared a national emergency.

Pressed by Blumenthal for his own military opinion, O’Shaughnessy reiterated that Trump has declared an emergency.

Further pressed by Blumenthal on the specific threat that justifies declaring a national emergency, O’Shaughnessy said that “a secure border will reduce the threats to the homeland.”

“That’s a general statement,” Blumenthal shot back, pressing the general again. “But what is it specifically at this moment in time that justified declaring a national emergency?”

O’Shaughnessy replied: “I would say the president has made that declaration.”

Blumenthal interjected to say, “You’re saying, in effect, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, that there’s a national emergency because the president has said there’s a national emergency.”

O’Shaughnessy concluded by saying he would refer to the Department of Homeland Security for the “characterization of the threat.”

Asked later by Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanRomney, Collins, Murkowski only Senate GOP holdouts on Graham's impeachment resolution GOP worries it's losing impeachment fight Senate GOP introduces resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Alaska) whether the number of drug overdoses in the United States constitutes an emergency, O’Shaughnessy said it is “clearly” a national “issue” that needs a “whole of government approach.”

The committee’s annual posture hearing with the Northcom commander comes after Trump declared a national emergency earlier this month in order to shift funding to be used for his proposed border wall after Congress did not allocate the amount he demanded in a spending agreement.

The House is expected to later Tuesday approve a resolution that would block the declaration, with the Senate taking up the resolution in the coming weeks.

As part of the emergency declaration, the Trump administration plans to use $3.6 billion from the military construction budget for the wall. A separate executive action was taken at the same time as the declaration to allow Trump to use $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s counter-drug funds for the wall.

The Pentagon’s counter-drug account only has $85 million in it right now, meaning the department would have to shift funds from other accounts into it.

On Tuesday, O’Shaughnessy said the Pentagon is still drawing up the exact plans on which funds to shift into the counter-drug account and which military construction projects to take money from.

In his opening statement, O’Shaughnessy said, “The threats to our nation from our southern border are not military in nature, but they are significant and deadly.”

Pressed by committee ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedIt's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number America's avengers deserve an advocate Democrats unifying against Joe Kennedy Senate bid MORE (D-R.I.) on that line, O’Shaughnessy said there is no foreign military force coming through the southern border, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. military cannot be helpful there.

When asked about the effectiveness of a wall to defend against an attack on the United States, O’Shaughnessy said, “Any barrier in place to secure our nation does have some ramifications to our ability to defend against a military threat as well.”

O’Shaughnessy said he did not recommend one way or the other whether to declare an emergency but said he’s had multiple conversations with Trump about the border and that he feels “very comfortable that, as the operational commander, our perspective was considered.”