Appropriators fume over reports of Trump plan to reprogram $7.2 billion for wall

Congressional appropriators are seeking answers from the White House following a Washington Post report that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE intends to reprogram $7.2 billion in military construction and defense funds toward building his border wall.

“To say this is unacceptable and infuriating would be an understatement,” said Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Mnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Once again the President continues to abuse the separation of powers in our Constitution,” he added.

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The Washington Post reported on Monday that Trump was planning to add money to his wall effort by transferring $3.5 billion from defense funds intended to combat drug trafficking and another $3.7 billion from military construction projects.

Trump's authority to transfer the funds falls under an emergency order he declared last year after Congress refused to fund more than $1.375 billion of his request, despite a 35-day government shutdown over the issue. At that point, he decided to transfer $2.5 billion in counter-narcotic funds and $3.6 billion in military construction funds toward the wall.

Democrats refused to back fill the funding for military construction projects that Trump emptied for the wall but were unable to convince Republicans to block Trump’s authority to reprogram the funds in a package of spending bills for 2020 that passed with broad bipartisan support in December.

Republican appropriators, more subdued than their Democratic counterparts on the issue Tuesday, said they had been caught unawares by the report and that they were seeking specifics from the White House.

“We have to weigh what this does to the military and what it affects and where and how,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyInfrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens Coronavirus bill includes more than billion in SNAP funding White House billion emergency request balloons to 2 billion in Senate coronavirus stimulus talks MORE (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as its Defense Subcommittee.

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“I wish they wouldn’t bother defense, but they’ve done it before,” he added.

Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanOn The Money: Stocks have worst week in a decade on coronavirus fears | Fed chief hints at rate cut | Trump pushes central bank for action | Kudlow advises investors to 'think about buying the dip' Republicans growing nervous about 2020 economy Overnight Defense: Pentagon policy chief resigns at Trump's request | Trump wishes official 'well in his future endeavors' | Armed Services chair warns against Africa drawdown after trip MORE (R-Ark.), who chairs the subcommittee on military construction, expressed a similar sentiment.

“We’re trying to figure out exactly what they want to do,” he said, “and what the unintended consequences might be.”

Democrats were outraged at the report, pointing to military infrastructure projects that Trump defunded last year, such as repairing a Kentucky school and building a medical center in North Carolina.

“Having failed to get his way in Congress, it appears President Trump is now once again forcing service members and their families to pay for his wall by cancelling even more vital military construction projects,” House Democratic appropriators, including House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse Democrats unveil coronavirus economic response package Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal under coronavirus threat MORE (D-N.Y.), Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzTop health official Fauci: People in US not easily getting coronavirus testing 'is a failing' Sanders poised for big Super Tuesday Establishment Democrats rallying behind Biden MORE (D-Fla.), wrote in a joint statement

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“Moreover, at a time when the opioid epidemic continues to rage across the country, President Trump is stealing funding that was intended for meaningful counterdrug priorities to pay for his wall,” they added.

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzLawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Trump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act Rand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate MORE (Hawaii), the top Democrat on the Senate’s military construction subcommittee, called the move “illegal,” but said he wasn’t sure the administration would follow through given that they had yet to spend reprogrammed funds from previous years.

“They haven’t spent the money they already stole,” he said.