In a letter to Trump, committee Democrats asked him to make available for a hearing White House and Justice Department officials involved in the action. They also requested legal documents on the decision that led to the declaration, setting a deadline of next Friday.
Trump’s decision to tap the Pentagon’s budget for a nonmilitary purpose amounts to an end run around politicians on Capitol Hill, who hold the power of the purse in Washington and so far have refused to appropriate the sum Trump wants for the wall.
Republicans are deeply torn over Trump’s decision to invoke executive power after Congress denied him the money he wanted for the wall along the Southern border. Some are backing the president, while others are vehemently opposed to what they see as constitutional overreach, setting up a potential showdown that adds to the already expected legal challenges.
“I don’t believe a national emergency declaration is the solution,” said Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who warned of taking the country down a “rabbit hole” with future presidents seizing unchecked executive power.
“No crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” said Senator Marco Rubio.
It’s an outcome Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his leadership warned Trump against. For days, they publicly urged him not to declare an emergency. But with Trump’s signature on Friday, Republican leaders are now largely falling in line behind Trump.
Using a national emergency declaration, Trump intends to draw $3.6 billion from already appropriated military construction funds that go to purposes as diverse as building hospitals on bases and overhauling barracks housing. Trump will access those funds under a little-known statute that allows the defence secretary to undertake military construction projects “not otherwise authorised by law” when they are in support of troops deployed in a national emergency.
In addition, the president plans to draw $2.5 billion from the military’s counterdrug support activities under a separate statute that does not require an emergency declaration. Because Congress appropriated only $1 billion for those counterdrug activities this fiscal year, the Pentagon will need to redirect money into that account from other places in its budget through a process called reprogramming. In the past, reprogramming has been done with congressional approval, but a Pentagon spokesman said a sign-off from Congress is not required by law.
Trump also authorised the activation of reservists to perform a federal mission at the direction of the defence secretary, in accordance with an emergency powers statute. So far, the Pentagon has not called up reservists or announced a deployment. The active-duty troops and guardsmen on the border have not been tasked with building the wall.
All told, Trump intends to obtain $US8 billion for the wall, only a small portion of which was authorised for that purpose by Congress.
Trump’s actions create a difficult situation for the Pentagon, now forced to decide which military programs already funded by Congress should be delayed or axed to free up money for the wall.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden on Friday, Trump dismissed the possibility that the funds he plans to take from the Pentagon’s military construction budget would prevent members of the armed forces from receiving the modern infrastructure and facilities they need. Trump said certain funds were being used at the discretion of generals, anyway, and some of the generals think this is more important.
“I was speaking to a couple of them,” Trump said. “They think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said, ‘What were you going to use it for?’ And I won’t go into details, but it didn’t sound too important to me.”
Washington Post, NY Times, Reuters, AP