Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday informed Congress he was diverting $3.6 billion from military construction projects to build 175 miles of border wall, a move that advanced one of President Trump’s top campaign pledges and infuriated Democrats.
Esper said in a letter dated September 3 to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK):
Pursuant to the authority granted to me in Section 2808, I have determined that 11 military construction projects along the international border with Mexico, with an estimated total cost of $3.6 billion, are necessary to support the use of the armed forces in connection with the national emergency.
These projects will deter illegal entry, increase the vanishing time of those illegally crossing the border, and channel migrants to ports of entry. They will reduce the demand for DoD personnel and assets at the locations where the barriers are constructed and allow the redeployment of DoD personnel and assets to other high-traffic areas on the border without barriers.
He directed the acting Army secretary to begin the 11 projects “expeditiously.”
The funds being used are from deferred military construction projects that are not scheduled for award until fiscal year 2020 or later and do not include any family housing, barracks, or dormitory projects.
Approximately $1.8 billion of the funds will come from projects slated for outside the U.S., and the remaining $1.8 billion would come from projects slated for within the U.S. The funds for overseas projects will be prioritized for use first.
Pentagon officials said during a press conference Tuesday that funding for 127 military construction projects would be delayed to build 175 miles of the border wall. The 11 projects include the replacement and new construction of border wall across El Paso and Laredo, Texas; Yuma, Arizona; and San Diego and El Centro, California.
Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Comptroller Elaine McCusker said construction is expected to begin in approximately 135 days where the federal government owns land along the border.
Officials said they hope to backfill those diverted funds with money in the upcoming fiscal year 2020 budget request.
Army Lt. Gen. Andrew W. Poppas, director of operations for the Joint Staff, said he expected that some of the 7,500 active duty and National Guard troops currently on the border would be able to leave once the projects are completed but did not speculate on when that could be.
Democrats expressed anger over the diversion of funds from military construction projects to the border wall.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tweeted that “canceling” military construction projects to pay for Trump’s “wasteful, ineffective wall” will “undermine our national security and the quality of life & morale” or troops.
She vowed to fight the use of Pentagon funds for the border wall “in the Courts”:
The House will continue to fight this unacceptable and deeply dangerous decision in the Courts, in the Congress and in the court of public opinion, and honor our oath to protect the Constitution. https://t.co/d5Nf0V8FkL
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) September 3, 2019
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tweeted it was a “slap in the face” to U.S. troops that the president was willing to “cannibalize” military funding for the border wall. He said projects at West Point would be impacted:
It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that @realDonaldTrump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego, and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build. https://t.co/sv2ys87bw1
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) September 3, 2019
Trump declared a national emergency at the border in February, which allowed for the transfer of government funds towards the border wall. The Supreme Court ruled in July 5–4 that he had the authority to skirt Congress and transfer those funds.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon redirected $2.5 billion to the border wall from a counter-drug fund for roughly 100 miles of border wall in New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The Supreme Court ruled in late July that the administration could transfer those funds. Last week the Pentagon said it had leftover money to construct an additional 20 miles of border wall.
As Breitbart News has previously reported, since Trump took office in January 2017, the Department of Homeland Security has completed about 60 miles of border wall construction, replacing existing, dilapidated fencing that was low to the ground and easy to climb over.
The administration’s goal is to build 500 miles by November 2020.