Congressional appropriators are seeking answers from the White House following a Washington Post report that President Trump 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 Leahy (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.
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 Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as its Defense Subcommittee.
“I wish they wouldn’t bother defense, but they’ve done it before,” he added.
Sen. John Boozman (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 Lowey (D-N.Y.), Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), wrote in a joint statement
“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 Schatz (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.