Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has authorized the diverting of $3.6 billion in military construction funds for 11 wall projects on the southern border with Mexico, according to defense officials and a letter from Esper to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has been obtained by CNN.
In his letter, Esper told Congress he has “determined that 11 military construction projects along the international border with Mexico, with an estimated total cost of $3.6 billion, are necessary to support the use of the armed forces in connection with the national emergency.”
The announcement fulfills a promise made by President Donald Trump in February to tap military construction funds to build his border wall. The move was slammed by Congress when it was first announced and only recently completed a Pentagon legal review.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the decision “a slap in the face” to service members.
“This decision will harm already planned, important projects intended to support our service members at military installations in New York, across the United States, and around the world,” Schumer wrote in a statement. “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.”
Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also condemned the move.
“President Trump’s immigration efforts have failed since day one. Today, he made it clear he is willing to take funds from our troops and disaster victims and divert them to try to protect his political right flank. And ultimately, that could put Americans at risk,” he said in a statement.
“This isn’t just an attempt to shift funding, it’s a bid to shift power away from Congress to the president. Clearly, this administration is trying to circumvent Congressional authority and this ill-advised attempt should be legally challenged and struck down by the courts.” Reed added.
Defense Department officials say 127 military construction projects are being put on hold in order to use the $3.6 billion to fund building 175 miles of southern border wall.
Construction is expected to begin in about 135 days according to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Comptroller Elaine McCusker.
According to chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman, half the money is coming from deferred projects overseas, and the other half were planned for projects in the US.
Though it’s unclear which military construction would be put on hold, the move could put at risk projects such as command and control, drone, cyber and training facilities in the US and overseas.
White House officials have held talks in the last weeks to begin planning for the move, two administration officials said, which would shift funds from the Department of Defense’s military construction budget to fund the border wall.
The move would rely on Trump’s February emergency declaration, which has faced stiff legal challenges.
Lt. Gen. Andrew W. Poppas, director of operations, J-3, Joint Staff, says “we do” expect to be able to reduce some of the troops assigned to the border mission with the construction of these barriers but would not say by how much.