The Trump administration plans to tap the Pentagon's budget and get another $3.8 billion in military funds to pay for border wall construction this year; a move critics blasted as “theft,” a raid and a money grab.
The fund transfers, detailed in Defense Department finances documents unveiled Thursday, would use money that had been budgeted for two F-35 fighters, two C-130J cargo planes, drones, and other equipment. The plan also focuses on $1.3 billion that was originally allocated for National Guard units from all four branches on the military.
This move comes a year after the White House diverted $3.6 billion from military construction projects to the wall that President Donald Trump famously guaranteed during his 2016 election campaign would be paid for by Mexico.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Arizona, mentioned in a statement released by her office Thursday that Trump is “now trying to steal money from our National Guard to pay for his vanity wall project.”
“It is shocking to see President Trump raid defense accounts – without having Congressional oversight or approval,” Kirkpatrick's statement said. “Not only does this action neglect our separation of powers and constitutional system, but it also compromises our national safety by taking away valuable resources.”
A Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department supports the transfer of funds that will officially be used by the Department of Homeland Security for drug interdiction efforts on the border.
“The Department of Defense is focused on supporting the Department of Homeland Security's endeavors to secure the southern border by building fences and roads and installing lighting to block drug smuggling corridors,” said Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell.
He said the request for finances came from DHS last month, “asking for assistance stopping drug-smuggling corridors on federal property across the southern border.”
In the budget document explaining the transfer, the Pentagon said DHS had listed “vehicle barriers, pedestrian fencing, and new lighting as necessary resources to ‘impede and deny drug smuggling activities.'”
The Pentagon justified each of the several dozen appropriations slated for transfer, together with an explanation describing the targeted items as excessive, unnecessary, or inconsistent with modernization goals. Most of the items were also labeled as congressional special interest items.
That drew the ire of National Guard Association of the United States, which said in a sharp note to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley that the items being cut are far from “special interest” items.
“We contend that it is instead a special interest item for national security,” said the letter from association President J. Roy Robinson and board chairman Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, who is also the adjutant general of Arizona.
“Reprogramming this congressionally directed funding would severely undermine the lethality and readiness of National Guard soldiers and airmen,” their letter said. “It could also significantly derail the timetable for safety upgrades and modernization efforts critical to National Guard weapon systems and equipment.”
Modernization and replacement projects for Humvees and National Guard equipment have been among over a dozen appropriations on the chopping block.
Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico, said the administration's plans put the military in danger. “As someone who grew up in a military family, it's extremely concerning to think about the impacts this theft could have on essential projects, equipment, and overall military readiness,” Haaland said. “Military families deserve to know their loved ones will be a top priority while serving our country, not secondary to a destructive vanity project.”
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee also criticized what they called administration “theft” from military accounts, and blamed Republican lawmakers for allowing the president.
“The Constitution gives Congress, not the President, the power of the purse,” said the statement from Democratic Reps. Nita Lowey of New York and Pete Visclosky of Indiana. “Congress turned down President Trump's complete request for wall funding, which is why he is now orchestrating this backdoor mechanism to prop up a political vanity project.”
It's not really the first time Congress and the White House have clashed over the funding.
When Congress in late 2018 denied Trump's request for $5.7 billion for the wall, the ensuing fund's standoff brought about a 35-day government shutdown. The shutdown ended when Trump backed away, simply to turn around and declare a national emergency that he said gives him the leeway to shuffle government funds and call on the Pentagon for the money.
That emergency had been renewed Thursday by the White House.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, tweeted Thursday that Trump is actually making American taxpayers pay “to build his xenophobic wall.”
“Trump is stealing from Arizona military funding yet again to bulldoze Southern Arizona habitats and blow up Native American sites,” Grijalva's tweet said.