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California water projects could be tapped to pay for Trump's border wall

Sarah D. Wire, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Officials have given President Donald Trump a plan to divert funds designated for Army Corps of Engineers projects in California and Puerto Rico to help pay for a wall along the southern border, a leading member of Congress said Thursday.

On his way to the Texas border Thursday, Trump was presented with 13 Army Corps of Engineers projects for which Congress has allocated money, but which have not yet been put under contract, according to Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.).

Those funds potentially could be tapped for building a border barrier if Trump declares a national emergency, which he said Thursday he is strongly inclined to do.

Members of Congress in both parties have said that would be an abuse of executive power, but many also have noted that a declaration would seem to make moot the issue at the center of the government-funding impasse that's shuttered many federal agencies for three weeks -- Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to build a 234-mile stretch of wall.

Once the president got his money elsewhere, Congress could pass and he could sign legislation funding the quarter of the federal government for which spending hasn't been approved for the remainder of this fiscal year, through Sept. 30.

Yet White House officials on Friday could not say whether Trump would do so. On Saturday, the shutdown will be in its 22nd day, making it the longest ever.

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Administration officials on Thursday confirmed that they were looking at a range of government accounts that Trump potentially could tap into, but would not comment specifically on which projects were being eyed.

Garamendi, however, who serves on the House committee that oversees water projects, said he had been told that a series of specific California projects were targeted, some of which are in his congressional district north and west of Sacramento. He would not say who provided the information.

"Word came to us" that Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers "accompanied the president to Texas to specifically discuss projects that could be reprogrammed to provide $5 billion for Trump's wall," Garamendi said. "I know that these projects were identified. I do know that these projects were presented to him."

"I am very comfortable in saying these were the projects that were discussed to be presented to the president," he said.

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