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Trump seeks to divert more Pentagon money to border wall construction

David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration is seeking to shift $3.8 billion more from the defense budget to pay for constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Pentagon notified Congress on Thursday, immediately provoking bipartisan objections for a second year.

The plan would pay for a further 177 miles of wall construction by taking the money from Pentagon accounts earmarked to buy fighter aircraft, vehicles, warships and other big-ticket weapons systems, the document showed.

The Department of Homeland Security "has identified areas along the southern border of the United States that are being used by individuals, groups and transnational criminal organizations as drug smuggling corridors," the Pentagon document said in trying to justify the shift on national security grounds. "Construction of additional physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the United States border is necessary."

President Donald Trump, running for reelection, is eager to show progress on the project that was perhaps the No. 1 promise of his 2016 campaign. He vowed as a candidate that Mexico would pay for the wall, but as president he turned instead to the Pentagon's deep pockets.

Last year, he sought to take money from military housing and base construction. This year, by targeting spending for weapons, his proposal drew even more opposition in Congress, from lawmakers in both parties who guard such defense contracts for their job-creation benefits as much as for national security.

"President Trump and his Administration have spent months trying to take critical resources away from our Armed Forces," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. "Congress, not the President, has the power of the purse -- a power that cannot be nullified so the President can fulfill an outrageous campaign promise."

 

Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, immediately pushed back as well. His state is home to Lockheed Martin production facilities for the F-35 fighter.

"Congress has the constitutional responsibility to determine how defense dollars are spent," Thornberry said in a statement. "The re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress' constitutional authority, and I believe that it requires Congress to take action."

Lawmakers repeatedly sought to block Trump's attempts to tap Pentagon funds last year. The president argued that he had authority to use military funds because of what he deemed a national security emergency along the border, a claim that federal courts are still reviewing.

The dispute has slowed but not blocked all Pentagon funding from being shifted to wall construction.

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