Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall

GOP lawmakers are grumbling over President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE’s redirection of funds from military construction projects in their states and districts to his promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Their uneasiness stems from this week’s announcement by Secretary of Defense Mark EsperMark EsperJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Milley and China — what the Senate really needs to know Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan MORE that $3.6 billion will be stripped from 127 projects at U.S. bases, including some in states where GOP senators are up for reelection.

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Congressional Republicans now face the fraught task of assuring their constituents that the projects won’t be canceled while also working with the Defense Department and Democrats to craft legislation that will replenish or “backfill” the funding — all while not coming across as publicly rebuking President Trump.

Many GOP lawmakers are upset that Trump issued an emergency declaration in February to carry out the cash shift. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase MORE (R-Maine), who is up for reelection, said she doesn’t believe the president has the constitutional authority to divert the money.

“Each of these projects was recommended by the administration, passed by both the Senate and the House, signed into law by the president, and while there is some discretion that he has to move money around, I think that his executive order exceeds his discretion,” she said during an event Wednesday in Maine.

Congress voted this year to block Trump’s emergency declaration, but lawmakers fell short of the votes needed to override the president’s subsequent veto. 

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Trump’s emergency declaration prompted Esper to inform congressional leaders this week that in order to build 175 miles of the wall on the southern border, some $1.1 billion would need to be cut from projects across 23 states, according to a letter to congressional leaders.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight MORE (R-Utah), whose state is set to lose a combined $54 million for two military projects, said he was “disappointed” by the decision, while noting that “funding the border wall is an important priority.” 

“The Executive Branch should use the appropriate channels in Congress, rather than divert already appropriated funding away from military construction projects and therefore undermining military readiness," he said in a statement Wednesday.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Trump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham MORE (R-Utah) added to that sentiment by saying, "Congress has been ceding far too much powers to the executive branch for decades and it is far past time for Congress to restore the proper balance of power between the three branches." 

He also called for Congress to “correct the imbalances caused by the National Emergencies Act.”

But other Republicans have been muted in their criticism, even if their states are getting hit.

“We continue to face a very real crisis at the southern border,” House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (R-Texas) said in a statement Wednesday. “I regret that the president has been forced to divert funding for our troops to address the crisis.”

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate passes infrastructure bill, budget resolution; Cuomo resigns Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up GOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster MORE (R-Ariz.), who faces a tough reelection campaign, downplayed the effect on her home state, saying a project at Ft. Huachuca had already been delayed because of an "ongoing environmental cleanup that is taking longer than expected." 

Her office initially said only $30,000 would be deferred from Arizona, but later said it was $30 million.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome Pelosi vows to avert government shutdown McConnell calls Trump a 'fading brand' in Woodward-Costa book MORE (R), whose home state of Kentucky will be hit by the funding shuffle to the tune of nearly $63 million, recently talked to Esper regarding the issue “and is committed to protecting funding for the Ft. Campbell Middle School project,” a spokesman for McConnell told The Hill.

“We would not be in this situation if Democrats were serious about protecting our homeland and worked with us to provide the funding needed to secure our borders during our appropriations process,” the spokesman said.

Democrats, meanwhile, have blamed the GOP for failing to stand up to Trump on the emergency declaration. 

Democrat MJ Hegar, who is seeking to unseat Sen. John Cornyn (R) in 2020, said in a statement Thursday that the Texas senator “should be ashamed that he enabled his political allies to steal $38.5 million from projects to improve the conditions at Fort Bliss and Joint Base San Antonio for our men and women in uniform.”

Hegar also said that Cornyn earlier this year “stood behind his political ally and voted in favor of the Emergency Declaration, which has enabled these national security funds to be ripped away from Texas bases.”

Ten Republican senators who are up for reelection next year voted in support of Trump’s emergency declaration but will have funding diverted from their state: Bill CassidyBill CassidyGOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff House passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid MORE (La.), Cornyn, Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program MORE (Colo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (S.C.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Austin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal The Pentagon budget is already out of control: Some in Congress want to make it worse MORE (Okla.), McConnell, McSally, Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization More Republicans call on Biden to designate Taliban as terrorist group Overnight Energy: Judge blocks permits for Alaska oil project MORE (Alaska) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime How to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) MORE (N.C.).

McSally, Gardner and Tillis are among those viewed as vulnerable heading into their reelection campaigns.

“It’s unfortunate Democrats can’t defend the border and defend the country at the same time. If they could, we would have a border that was secure and no need for other funding to secure the border," Gardner said in a statement Thursday. "Six months ago, they said there was no crisis at the border. Now they admit there is a crisis but won’t pay to help fix it.” 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) says senators like Tillis, McSally, Gardner, Cornyn, Graham and McConnell are “directly responsible for their own states losing millions of dollars in funding for critical military construction projects.”

“Because of their self-serving politics and their spineless inability to stand up to the White House, [GOP senators] failed a basic test of leadership and now military installations in their states are paying the price,” DSCC spokesman Stewart Boss said in a statement.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Top Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Democrats brace for battle on Biden's .5 trillion spending plan MORE (D-Ill.), an Army veteran, said Trump’s “inappropriate move” makes it clear that he “cares more about appearing to keep his ridiculous campaign promises than he does about keeping the nation’s promises to our troops.”

“Trump’s reckless politicization of vital military funds will waste taxpayer dollars and ultimately harm our military’s readiness, our troops’ quality of life and our national security,” Duckworth said in a statement Wednesday.

Democrats are likely to prolong the political headache for Republicans leading up to Election Day 2020. Under the National Emergencies Act, Democrats can force votes on resolutions of disapproval every sixth months, with the next vote as soon as mid-September.  

The House and Senate will soon face the challenge of coming together to figure out a solution in the annual defense policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act. 

The GOP-controlled Senate already agreed to fund the deferred military projects in its bill, but the Democratic-led House said it won’t agree to do the same.

“I think it’s going to be difficult with members of the House to try to get them to backfill the money. This is a showdown that we’ve seen coming for a long time,” said Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

If House Democrats refuse to authorize the backfilled money, affected military construction projects might be terminated. 

But giving the administration the money it has requested, Harrison said, is “basically giving the president the green light to do this again.” 

“If they want to avoid contradicting the president publicly, but they also want to protect these projects and their constituents that depend on then, then I think the most logical course of action is to just keep working on the side to make sure the money gets restored,” Harrison said. 

“And then they can try to go to their constitutes and say, ‘Hey, it’s only temporary. We’re going to get the money put back. Don’t worry.’”