Shanahan grilled on Pentagon's border wall funding

Shanahan grilled on Pentagon's border wall funding
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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanHouse Armed Services chairman expresses confidence in Esper amid aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis Boeing pleads for bailout under weight of coronavirus, 737 fallout Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January MORE was tested Thursday as Democratic senators grilled him on President TrumpDonald John TrumpUPS, FedEx shut down calls to handle mail-in ballots, warn of 'significant' problems: report Controversial GOP Georgia candidate attempts to distance from QAnon Trump orders TikTok parent company to sell US assets within 90 days 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.

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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 HironoSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Overnight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw 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 ReedDemocrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response 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 KingHillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations Lawmakers introduce bill designating billion to secure state and local IT systems Overnight Energy: EPA finalizes rollback of Obama-era oil and gas methane emissions standards | Democratic lawmakers ask Interior to require masks indoors at national parks | Harris climate agenda stresses need for justice 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 McSallyTrump: GOP senators who don't embrace him will 'lose their elections' McConnell warns control of Senate 'could go either way' in November The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden picks Harris as running mate 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 KaineThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump goes birther again; no deal on COVID-19 package Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance 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.