Amid border debate, Air Force head tells senators that all military projects essential

Amid border debate, Air Force head tells senators that all military projects essential
© Stefani Reynolds

The secretary of the Air Force said Wednesday that there is nothing on her department’s list of military construction projects that’s unnecessary as Democratic senators grilled her on President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE’s plan to use $3.6 billion from the Pentagon for his proposed border wall.

Asked by Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDem senator describes 'overcrowded quarters,' 'harsh odor' at border facilities Warren introduces bill targeted at food insecurity on college campuses On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses MORE (D-Hawaii) whether she sees anything in the Air Force’s military construction budget “that is not essential for readiness,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson replied that “we request military construction based on priority and military need.”

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“Some of its readiness, some of it is just straightforward modernization that you’ve got to house new aircraft, so it is all necessary,” she said during a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.

Schatz, who is the top Democrat on another Senate Appropriations subcommittee that’s in charge of military construction, further pressed the Air Force secretary on whether “there’s anything on your list that you think you don’t need,” to which Wilson replied, “no.”

Trump plans to take $3.6 billion from the Pentagon’s military construction budget to help build his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border after declaring a national emergency last month.

The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a resolution that would block the emergency declaration.

Democrats have been pressing Pentagon officials for specifics on what military construction projects could be affected by taking $3.6 billion out of the budget.

Wilson, who announced her resignation last week, said during the hearing Wednesday that the Air Force has not yet identified which projects could be affected by a transfer in funds.

Separately, the Air Force is also asking Congress to approve supplemental funding to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which was battered by Hurricane Michael last year.

Wilson told reporters after the hearing that the Air Force needs about $750 million this fiscal year for recovery at Tyndall, as well as another $150 million for planning on major construction projects that can’t be started this year.

“If we don’t get that supplemental really by April of this year, we’re going to have to start deferring projects at other bases for facility modernization and [operations] and maintenance stuff because we’ve had to rob all these other accounts and we still don’t have the supplemental,” she said. “If we don’t get a supplemental by April, it’s going to start impacting every other base.”

Wilson sidestepped questions about whether requesting supplemental funding while Trump plans to take $3.6 billion from the military construction account for the wall sends mixed messages to lawmakers.

“This is a supplemental in response to a hurricane that hit in the fall and also hit Camp Lejeune, as well, and also now of course Alabama just got hit. It is just pretty standard common practice when you have that kind of devastation that happens to a military base, Camp Lejeune and Tyndall in this case, that there’s a supplemental to recovery from a massive natural disaster,” she said.

Further pressed by The Hill whether any of the $3.6 billion could otherwise be used for recovery, Wilson said, “This is a supplemental request on top of any appropriated amounts.”