WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials are looking at military construction projects to provide funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall with new intensity, in part with a focus on getting the money transferred before a judge can freeze the process.
Speaking on background, several Pentagon officials told TMN that once Trump formally declared the national emergency last Friday the search to identify projects to gut funding took on “new urgency.”
Each service is charged to identify projects with the smallest impact to delay until future budget cycles, these Pentagon officials told TMN in interviews. That process started in January, when the first suggestions on declaring a national emergency were raised — but “serious work” did not get underway until last weekend, these officials said.
The White House seeks to snare $3.6 billion in military construction funds as part of a $8 billion money maneuver to pay for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border via the declaration of a national emergency.
On Monday, 16 states filed a lawsuit to block funding for the border wall national emergency declared by Trump. Two other lawsuits were filed Monday by different organizations.
“I think there’s at least a 50-50 chance that President Trump’s emergency declaration is upheld in the courts,” Wyeth Ruthven, a political strategist and former deputy legal counsel to the South Carolina Democratic Party.
“When the Supreme Court ruled against Harry Truman in Youngstown Steel case, there was no underlying statute allowing the president to declare a national emergency. Now there is,” Ruthven said. “The Supreme Court has already been very deferential to executive power — that’s why they upheld President Trump’s travel ban.”
On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would bring up for a vote a resolution halting the national emergency. The earliest for such a vote is next week.
Neither the filing of lawsuit nor the possible congressional vote halts the process launched by the national emergency order, Pentagon officials said. That means they can transfer some or all of the $3.6 billion — which they alternatively call “repurposing” or “reprogramming” — at any time before a judge issues a legal stay, a fiscal beat-the-clock that would make the presidential maneuver a fait accompli.
Pentagon officials have a pool of about $21 billion in unobligated military construction funds to pull the $3.6 billion sought by the White House. They said the $3.6 billion is almost certain to come from the $10 billion approved for military construction for fiscal 2019, since none of those projects have commenced.
There are 28 national emergencies ongoing. That includes the first one declared under the National Emergencies Act of 1974 — President Jimmy Carter blocking Iranian government property from entering the United States.
The last time the military was part of a national emergency order was in the first of two declarations after the September 11, 2001, attacks. That proclamation permitted the president “to call troops from the National Guard or from retirement, to apportion military funding, to exercise more discretion over hiring military officers, and to promote more generals than previously allowed.”