President Donald Trump will use a combination of executive actions and one national emergency declaration to go around Congress and funnel over $6 billion in funds not directly approved by lawmakers for security efforts along the border with Mexico, planning to tap money from both the Treasury Department and the Pentagon, with a goal of building a minimum of 234 new miles of border barriers, White House officials said on Friday.
“I didn’t need to do this,” President Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden, complaining that Congress wasn’t giving him enough money for a wall. “I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.”
“With the declaration of a national emergency, the President will have access to roughly $8 billion worth of money that can be used to secure the southern border,” said Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, in a phone call with reporters before the President’s announcement.
Mulvaney said the money will come from several sources, as a national declaration will be used in one instance – to take $3.6 billion in military construction money already approved by Congress for other projects – and re-direct that to border security.
“It shouldn’t surprise anybody that the President under certain circumstances has the right to use military construction dollars in order to build things to help defend the nation,” Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney said the President will also use executive actions to grab money from a Pentagon fund which deals with counter-drug activities, and a Treasury Department forfeiture fund.
When combined with the $1.375 billion in border security funding approved on Thursday by the Congress, these actions would give the President close to $8 billion for border security measures in 2019.
While it had been discussed in recent weeks, no money will be taken from disaster relief accounts in order to fund this border security effort, officials said.
Asked about President Trump setting a precedent which could be exploited by future Democrats in the White House, Mulvaney sharply criticized such evaluations as incorrect.
“It actually creates zero precedent, this is authority given to the President in law 0already,” Mulvaney said, as he rejected talk by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others that it would allow Democrats to declare emergencies on gun violence or other issues.
“That’s completely false,” Mulvaney said. “If the Democrats could have figured out a way to do that, they would have done that already.”
Maybe the most contentious part of the President’s decision will be over the $3.6 billion being taken out of military construction, which has a budget in 2019 of $10.3 billion.
Asked for specifics on what projects would be deferred, senior administration officials had no answers for reporters.
The authority for the action on military construction money comes from Title X, Section 2808, which allows a President to re-direct such funds under a national emergency – also allows the Congress to try to block the move.
“Yanking money from the Military Construction budget is a violation of the law and the constitution, and an abdication of our obligation to responsibly fund the military,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), as members of both parties have weighed in against the idea.
“President Trump’s emergency declaration is a farce and his wall is about vanity not security,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), as Democrats heaped scorn on the President’s executive actions.
“The national emergency in Trump’s mind is not at the border, it’s that he can’t deliver his promise that he would build a wall and Mexico would pay for it,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA).
Even some Republicans expressed reservations about taking money out of military construction funds.
“As I have voiced to this Administration repeatedly, I strongly believe securing our border should not be done at the expense of previously funded military construction projects,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH).
“A national emergency declaration for a non-emergency is void,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), as he accused the President of trying to ‘circumvent out constitutional system.’