Top Armed Services Republican expects to address Pentagon border wall funds in defense policy bill

Top Armed Services Republican expects to address Pentagon border wall funds in defense policy bill
© Greg Nash

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday he anticipates language in the annual defense policy bill to address President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE using Pentagon funding to build his border wall.

“We are looking at some of those options. Obviously some of the most extreme ones would not get the support of most Republicans and may well encounter a veto,” Rep. 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) told reporters on a conference call Thursday. “I've been concerned, where Congress passes and the president signs into law funding for a particular purpose, and then the department on its own just moves that around. It's not just about second guessing opinions. There are deeper constitutional issues which are raised.”

“One way to avoid all this stuff is to fund the border wall where it ought to be funded, so that you don't have to go hunting at [the Defense Department] or anywhere else to fund the money. But I think you may see something on this topic in the NDAA,” he added, referring to the National Defense Authorization Act.

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In February, Thornberry was vocal in his opposition to the Trump administration taking $3.8 billion, mostly from weapons programs, and putting it into a counter-drug fund to pay to build the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

A couple other Armed Services Republicans expressed some concern at the time, but have not backed legislation to reverse it.

This year’s $3.8 billion was on top of $6.1 billion the Pentagon shuffled around last year for the border wall.

Last year, House Democrats included in the defense policy spending bills restrictions on the Pentagon transferring money between accounts, but those provisions were taken out of the final products signed into law amid opposition from Republicans.

Thornberry twice voted against overturning Trump’s national emergency declaration that allowed him to tap military construction funds for the wall and opposed the transfer limits in last year’s NDAA as too constricting on a department that may need to move money quickly in a crisis.

But Thornberry, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term, argues this year’s move raises constitutional questions that last year’s didn’t about Congress appropriating money for a specific reason the Pentagon then ignores.

He has expressed hope this year’s House NDAA will be more bipartisan than last year’s, which he and other Republicans voted against.

Thornberry acknowledged anything in the bill about the border wall would be “politically sensitive,” but said lawmakers have “got to figure out a way to navigate around” the issue.

“I think we can,” Thornberry added. “I'm still, at this point, pretty optimistic that we can come up with something that both sides will support.”

Consideration of this year’s NDAA has been delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic. The House Armed Services Committee had originally planned to consider the bill at the end April, but postponed that as lawmakers stayed out of D.C. Thornberry and committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — House lawmakers eye military pay raise next year House lawmakers want military pay raise for enlisted troops Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Navy probe reveals disastrous ship fire response MORE (D-Wash.) have vowed the bill will still be passed “this year.”

Thornberry said Thursday that staffers continue to work out logistics for how the full committee can safely consider the bill, adding that there are discussions for the full House to take it up quickly after it returns to town.

“I know leadership on both sides are talking together about having the NDAA be one of the early bills to move through the House,” he said. “And I think that's really important, one, to show that Congress can function, that we can do so under the traditional open process that we have always used. But it's also really important to show the men and women who serve that, yeah, even in times of a pandemic we’ve got their back.”