President Trump has ordered a significant portion of funding from home and overseas military building projects to be diverted to rebuilding large portions of the border wall. And it was all made possible by the earlier declaration of a National Emergency. While this decision will almost certainly be challenged in the courts, for now, it has left House and Senate Dems clutching at pearls in the knowledge that they may just have to suck it up.
Pentagon officials confirmed that $3.6 billion in Defense Department dollars will be used to build 175 miles of wall on the US-Mexico border. In what can only be described as a one-fingered salute, Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the leaders of Congrees to let them know which existing projects would be impacted by the re-allocation. The Democrat leadership appeared quietly incensed.
The Immediate Fallout
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said:
“The president is trying to usurp Congress’s exclusive power of the purse and loot vital funds from our military. Robbing the Defense Department of much-needed funds is an affront to our service members and Congress will strongly oppose any funds for new wall construction.”
Yet, many are already questioning quite how vital the 127 projects actually are in terms of the “defense of the realm.” Many are designated for overseas builds. Having troops at home on American soil certainly seems to be a safer option in terms of protecting the lives of servicemen and women.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) bemoaned the impact that the moving of funds would have on the military personnel, saying:
“Canceling military construction projects at home and abroad will undermine our national security and the quality of life and morale of our troops, making America less secure… The House will continue to fight this unacceptable and deeply dangerous decision in the Courts, in the Congress and in the court of public opinion, and honor our oath to protect the Constitution.”
Building On Solid Ground?
Like almost every other decision made by the Trump administration, this will be challenged in the courts, most likely the Ninth Circuit, where decisions seem to magically go against the president. Yet if past history is anything to go by, it will likely win through on appeal.
The president suggested that the cash would be replaced at a later date as a “backfill,” which would place the Democrats in the unenviable position of having to either agree to the spending or justify why they are against pulling the money right now only to change their minds in due course.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), attempted to make the case that 175 miles of new border wall would do little to impact the “humanitarian crisis” on the southern border, suggesting that there was “no credible reason” for diverting the previously allocated funds.
Politically, however, this may be just the impetus President Trump requires ahead of the 2020 election. Rasmussen Polls reported in December that, “One-in-three Republicans (34%) would contribute to a private fund to build the wall, compared to 10% of Democrats and 21% of voters not affiliated with either major political party.” This is a significant minority that rates the border wall as a major priority and does not include those who believe it should be built only with government funds.
More Wall, More Votes
In the grand electoral scheme, it doesn’t actually matter whether the funds are finally allowed to be used. To the voting public, the president will appear to be doing all he can to deliver on a campaign promise, and the Democratic Party will be seen as hindering the will of the people. If the wall gets built, Trump can say he delivered. If it gets blocked, he can use it as a cudgel with which to beat his 2020 opponent.
But perhaps this decision was never meant to achieve much more than sticking it to congressional opponents? As the 2020 contenders try to stake their claim to the nomination as either “the climate contender” or the “health care hero,” once again, Trump has pulled the rug and set the agenda for what they must now address at every single debate and campaign rally. And that may have been the purpose all along.