President Donald Trump is planning to raid about $3.6 billion from more than 120 military construction projects — work that is presumably needed — to begin building his southern border wall. Not only is the administration once again sidestepping the will of Congress and endangering the principle of separation of powers, it’s also diverting public funds the military deems necessary for its ongoing operations and using them to pay for Trump to fulfill a misguided campaign promise to his base.
Both parties assert unwavering support for the U.S. military. If their congressional leaders don’t step up and condemn Trump’s diversion, why even pretend Congress still has a role in government?
Trump’s obsession with the wall has always been less about securing the border than securing the adoration of xenophobic voters. Experts on border security say the best approach relies on technology and personnel, with targeted use of fencing in populous areas. But the notion of trying to seal off a 2,000-mile border is a simplistic approach to a complex issue.
Congress has already said no to Trump’s wall, and in a constitutional democracy of checks and balances, that should have been that. But Trump, never one to let a little thing like the Constitution get in the way of his exercise of power, is claiming “emergency” authority to divert budgeted and approved military outlays for the wall.
Remember Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for the wall? The bill is actually going to the children of U.S. service members overseas and at domestic bases, where hundreds of millions of dollars for military schools and other family amenities will be redirected to the wall. Another $400 million will be diverted from the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Domestic military projects across the country will be shuttered.
All that and, in truth, the wall isn’t going to get built any time soon, if ever. Logistics, litigation over the necessary land-grabs and other issues will hold it up for years. No matter. Trump’s goal is just to be able to say he’s building his wall. This is a $3.6 billion, taxpayer-funded campaign commercial.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., put it aptly: “It is a slap in the face to the members of the armed forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build.”
Given the president’s broad authority over military priorities, there may be little Congress can officially do to stop this. At the very least, leading Republicans — who claim at every turn to care about defending America — should be joining Democrats by standing up and saying with one voice that this is unacceptable.