WASHINGTON – Pentagon officials were chastised on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for their strategy to redirect $3.6 billion from military construction projects to build barriers on the southwest border.
Robert McMahon, assistant secretary of Defense for sustainment, told lawmakers that construction projects would be delayed but not canceled in response to President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency.
The projects chosen will have a minimal effect on readiness to fight, he said. Requests for additional funding will come in Trump’s 2020 budget for the Pentagon, McMahon said.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the panel, immediately challenged McMahon, telling him “you’re fooling no one.” Adding money to future budgets to pay for the delayed projects amounts to funding the wall without approval from Congress, she said.
She accused McMahon of treating members of Congress like “chumps.”
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McMahon promised a state-by-state list of projects that could be delayed to pay for the wall.
The Pentagon began preparing options to build barriers on the southern border last month, anticipating Trump’s declaration of a national emergency.
Trump wants $5.7 billion to build a wall on the border, and, after failing to negotiate a deal with Congress, he declared the emergency. That allows the administration to tap military accounts that have not spent money on approved construction projects. The White House has said Trump will attempt to access $3.6 billion in military construction money.
On Tuesday, the House voted 245-182 to block Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the southern border. But Democrats didn’t win enough support from Republicans to overcome Trump’s threatened veto.
The national emergency and other measures will free up $8 billion to fund 234 miles of bollard wall, according to the White House. A lengthy legal battle is expected over the president’s ability to use the declaration for that purpose.
Meanwhile, the number of troops deployed to the border in support of the Department of Homeland Security is growing. There are more than 5,000 personnel deployed to the southwest border, about 2,900 active duty and 2,100 National Guard troops. Their numbers are expected to grow to 6,000 by March.