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Pentagon is diverting $3.6 billion in military funding toward border wall

The Trump administration has started the arduous process of canceling $3.6 billion in military construction projects to fund its plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Trump declares a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border while speaking about border security at the White House, February 15, 2019.

The Pentagon on Tuesday announced it would use $3.6 billion in military construction funding to pay for President Donald Trump’s long-promised border wall.

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.

Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Elaine McCusker did not give details on which projects would be put on hold, saying they wanted to notify members of Congress first. That’s expected to happen on Wednesday.

Officials said the affected projects did not include housing or projects that were already awarded 2019 dates.

“We do realize this could cause some delay” to the projects, but “they are definitely not canceled,” McCusker said.

Democrats were quick to blast the move, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the decision “irresponsible” and dangerous.

“The administration’s irresponsible decision to transfer funds from appropriated U.S. military construction makes America less safe and dishonors the Constitution,” Pelosi said. “The president is negating the Constitution’s most fundamental principle, the separation of powers, by assaulting our congressional ‘power of the purse,’ and is undermining the oath of office we take to protect and defend the Constitution and the American people.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Esper told him some of the money would come from construction and maintenance money for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in Schumer’s home state of New York.

“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,” Schumer said.

“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,” he added.

The DOD officials who briefed reporters on the plan said the building will include new and replacement wall sections in 11 areas of California, Texas and Arizona. Construction is expected to begin by the end of the year, McCusker said.

The president deployed active-duty military and National Guard troops to the southern border last fall, citing a “crisis” in the surge of migrants coming from Central America. Troop levels have at times surpassed 5,000, NBC News has reported. Trump has said the use of the military is necessary to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking from Mexico into the United States, but active-duty troops are barred from performing law enforcement functions inside the country.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said the military needs the money that’s already been allocated.

In spring 2018, Pentagon officials told the House Armed Services Committee that the Department of Defense facility maintenance backlog exceeded $116 billion, and that 23 percent of its facilities “are in poor condition.”

Trump declared a national emergency at the border in February in a bid to circumvent Congress and fund wall construction. The border wall was one of Trump’s earliest campaign promises during the 2016 election. He initially said it would be paid for by Mexico.

Traditionally, the Pentagon conducts a midyear review in April to hunt down budget savings that can be moved to programs that need the money. Now, the Pentagon is redirecting funds to the wall.

Congress is usually involved in approving the reallocation of military funds, otherwise known as “reprogramming.” But not this time.

Following demands from lawmakers, the Pentagon had been slated to release the list of cut military construction projects in May, but the plans were delayed.

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