Speaking to reporters Friday morning, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said the president intends to create an $8 billion pot of money for wall construction. Congress set aside $1.375 billion of that in the Department of Homeland Security funding bill. Another $600 million would come from Treasury Department drug forfeiture funds. The Department of Defense would provide the rest, in the form of $2.5 billion from the military’s fund for counter narcotic activities, and $3.6 billion reprogrammed from the military construction budget.
“What’s not on that list is taking away disaster relief money from places like Texas and Puerto Rico,” Mulvaney said, who sought to put to rest earlier speculation that the administration might use funds set aside for disasters to build the wall.
Mulvaney also insisted that the president’s use of national emergency powers, codified in a 1976 bill passed by Congress, did not create a precedent future presidents could use to pay for their own policy priorities without congressional appropriations.
It was not entirely clear why this action wouldn’t set a precedent for the future, however. At one point, Mulvaney seemed to suggest that it was because this action was legal, and those of a Democratic president wold not be.
The current legislation contains strict geographic restrictions on where new portions of wall can be built, but a senior administration official said these only apply to the $1.375 billion from Congress.
The official also explained that only one of the four funding sources, the military construction funds, specifically required the declaration of a national emergency, while the rest did not. The official said presidents had activated these emergency restricted funds twice before: Once in 1990, to fund Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait following Iraqi invasion, and the second time in November of 2001, to fund the American military campaign in Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks.
The White House is currently going through a filtering process to ensure that any funds taken from the military would not affect operational readiness or active duty troops, the official said. The accounts tapped to build the wall this year would be refilled with funds in the 2020 fiscal year budget, which the administration aims to finalize this spring, the person added.
The administration’s ultimate goal is to build 234 miles of wall, but the official acknowledged that the precise outcome and processes will be “a little bit of a mix and match, because different pots [of funding] have different restrictions on how they can be used.”
The official also emphasized that any new portions of wall would be made of steel bollard, saying that both Democrats and Republicans had agreed to this type of barrier months ago. “There’s no fight over what’s going to be built, it’s going to be a bollard wall,” the official said.
Trump’s wall demand led to a record 35-day partial government shutdown during December and January. This time around, he chose to keep the government open, but risked an even bigger gambit.
Backlash from Democrats came down quickly when Trump announced his intent to declare a national emergency on Thursday.
“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement Thursday. They added: “This is not an emergency, and the president’s fearmongering doesn’t make it one.”
Another senator with a key role in overseeing Defense appropriations said he would fight Trump’s move to pull from the military construction budget. In a tweet Thursday night, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, called it “an abdication of our obligation to responsibly fund the military” and said he “will fight this in every way that [he] can.”
“Whether it’s dry docks or clinics or hangers (sic) or runways, there is not 3.5B to remove without dire consequences,” Schatz, the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, wrote in a follow-up tweet Friday morning.
The top Republicans in Congress offered their support for an emergency declaration. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., both said they backed the president’s move.
Not all Republicans were comfortable with it. GOP senators including Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Marco Rubio of Florida and John Cornyn of Texas have argued a declaration would set a bad precedent as Trump threatened to take the step in recent weeks.
In a statement Thursday, Rubio said “no crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” adding that he is “skeptical” whether he can back the declaration. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also tweeted that “extraconstitutional executive actions are wrong, no matter which party does them.”
Congressional Democrats are gearing up to fight the emergency declaration. Several representatives committed to backing a resolution of disapproval, which Congress can pass within 15 days of the declaration.
If the Democratic-held House approves the measure, it would pressure Republicans in the GOP-held Senate. Trump could veto the plan if lawmakers could not muster enough votes to overcome his opposition.
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