The U.S.-Mexico border fence stands on Dec. 8, 2015 near McAllen, Texas.
Photo by John Moore/Getty

Trump takes $3.6 billion from Pentagon to pay for border barriers

Updated

The Washington Post reported last week that Donald Trump is so desperate to expand border barriers ahead of his 2020 campaign that he’s directed aides to “aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules.” Those who were caught running afoul of the law, the president added, would also be rewarded with presidential pardons.

Confronted with questions about contracting procedures and the proper use of eminent domain, the Republican reportedly replied that he expected administration officials to simply “take the land.”

The White House later seemed to confirm the crux of the story, though presidential aides said Trump was joking about the pardons. It wasn’t much of a defense.

But the desperation campaign continues, and it now includes the administration diverting $3.6 billion away from the Pentagon to pay for border barriers.

The move, which was authorized by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, will impact 127 different construction projects, Department of Defense officials told reporters.

Officials said that half of the money – $1.8 billion – would come from planned international projects and the other half, if needed, would come from domestic projects.

So much for Mexico paying for the project.

The $3.6 billion will reportedly build about 175 miles’ worth of border barriers, some of which will be new, some of which will replace older existing barriers.

There’s some question as to which specific military construction projects are going to lose their funding, and Pentagon officials are reportedly going to brief lawmakers this week whose districts will be adversely affected.

It’s a tough dynamic to defend. Even putting aside the president’s ridiculous rhetoric about Mexican financing, the Trump administration originally said the Defense Department needed those funds. The White House is nevertheless redirecting the money, without congressional approval, to pay for fencing that won’t make much of a difference.

Those funds were set to boost local economies. Now they’re being redirected to satisfy Trump’s political agenda.

All of this, of course, stems from a national-emergency declaration that Trump issued earlier this year. At a White House event announcing the move, the president declared, “I didn’t need to do this.”

There’s been some talk this week about Congress “backfilling” the Pentagon’s budget, financing the projects that would go ignored in the wake of the White House’s gambit, but to put it mildly, the Democratic House majority is not fond of such an idea.

Not only would it mean lawmakers funding the same projects twice, but this approach would indirectly subsidize Trump’s “wall” crusade, which Dems are not prepared to do.

Postscript: The ACLU is reportedly preparing to file suit to block the use of military funds. It’s a case worth keeping an eye on.