Shanahan grilled on Pentagon's border wall funding

Shanahan grilled on Pentagon's border wall funding
© Getty

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanTrump defense pick expected to face tense confirmation Iran slams US troop deployment: 'Extremely dangerous' for Middle East peace Overnight 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 MORE was tested Thursday as Democratic senators grilled him on 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 plan to use military funding for his proposed border wall.

Shanahan sought to reassure senators on Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency and use $3.6 billion in military construction funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

"Military construction on the border will not come at the expense of our people, our readiness, or our modernization," Shanahan told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He was testifying at his first congressional hearing since becoming acting secretary, and his testimony was being viewed as a make-or-break moment in his audition to be nominated for the job permanently.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Senate is expected on Thursday to pass a resolution that would block Trump’s declaration, though the president is expected to veto it.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoTrump defense pick expected to face tense confirmation Senate confirms Rosen for No. 2 spot at DOJ Alabama abortion law sparks fears Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade MORE (D-Hawaii) asked Shanahan during the hearing if he agreed with earlier testimony by the U.S. Northern Command chief that the situation at the southern border is not a “military threat.”

“I agree with him,” Shanahan responded.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who testified alongside Shanahan, also said, “I agree.”

“It’s a security challenge, not a military threat,” Dunford added.

Several other Democratic senators used their line of questioning to push Shanahan on the issue, including ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedTrump defense pick expected to face tense confirmation Senate panel advances Trump's Space Force Senate panel rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps, advances defense bill that backfills wall money MORE (D-R.I.), who in his opening statement said the wall has “arguably ... zero military utility."

Shanahan sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security last month asking for a list of projects that the Pentagon is being asked to support as part of the emergency declaration.

He told Reed on Thursday that he has not yet received a response, but that, “I expect that this week.”

Reed shot back that for “an emergency, this seems to be a pretty casual approach to the issue.”

Shanahan also told Reed that he does not yet have a “final list” of projects the Pentagon will take money from to reach the $3.6 billion being asked for by Trump.

Later in the hearing, Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSenate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Trump, Europe increasingly at odds on Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems raise stakes with talk of 'constitutional crisis' MORE (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, said he finds it “hard to believe” there’s no list.

“You’ve had a month,” King said.

King asked Shanahan whether he has assured any individual members that projects in their area will not be affected, to which he replied, “No I have not.”

But Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyOn The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump Senate defense bill would make military sexual harassment standalone crime MORE (R-Ariz.) said she has received such assurances.

“We did have a conversation, and there are four projects in Arizona that were appropriated in [fiscal 2019] and you broadly said those [fiscal 2019] projects across all the country will not be affected by this, just to be clear,” McSally said.

Shanahan replied, “that is correct.”

“How does that square with what he just told me?” King interjected.

Later in the hearing, Reed was given more time to clarify the issue. At that point, he secured a commitment from Shanahan to deliver a list by the end of the day of all unobligated military construction funds to see what projects are at risk.

"I would like that list today, Mr. Secretary," Reed told Shanahan. "We'll have that list so that everyone will know what project they have to worry about going forward. Is that it? That's the deal?"

"That's the deal," Shanahan replied.

Shanahan's commitment, though, raised the ire of Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Details on Senate's 0B defense bill | Bill rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps | Backfills money for border wall | Defense chief says more troops could head to Mideast Dem senator plans amendment to restrict military action against 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 (D-Va.), who has been asking service secretaries for the list since the declaration was made.

"I feel completely sandbagged," Kaine said. "You're going to send it to us today after the vote on the emergency declaration? ... This is information is highly relevant to the senators who are voting on this emergency declaration because the question is, should the president be able to declare a nonmilitary emergency — that's what the military has testified — and then ransack the Pentagon budget."

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2020 budget released this week also includes an additional $3.6 billion for more border wall funding.

Asked by Reed whether that’s “appropriate,” Shanahan replied that it’s “appropriate given the planning” and then deferred to Pentagon comptroller and acting Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist.

Norquist said the money was included in the budget because the emergency declaration lasts 12 months, which extends into fiscal 2020.

“One of things we wanted to be certain to do is to not disrupt future military construction projects,” Norquist said.

Pressed by Reed on whether “you're asking us literally to authorize funding for the wall,” Norquist replied: "Yeah."

Updated at 1:13 p.m.