How Far Will Trump Go on Wall?
Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 6, 2019
After a lot of yelling and court cases, even a partial government shutdown, the Pentagon has authorized transfer of $3.6 billion towards 11 construction projects that will add fencing to replace other barriers as part of Donald Trump’s Wall on the southern border — at the expense of military needs and reconstruction projects in Puerto Rico.
It’s all for Trump’s political gain and obsession.
For better or worse, the Pentagon was clear and careful in outlining the 11 projects along the Rio Grande, in Arizona and Southern California, sometimes in terms that would appeal only to a real estate title company.
So, we know that one El Paso project involves “64 miles of construction of approximately 6 miles of a new primary pedestrian fence system in place of existing vehicle barriers starting 1.5 miles east of monument marker 6–1 and extending 2 miles east of monument marker 63; and construction of approximately 6 miles of a new secondary pedestrian fence system starting miles west of monument marker 64 and extending 2 miles east of monument marker 63.”
Though there was no initial accounting for the 127 military construction projects which will not be built — at least now, the Pentagon did release a list once word started leaking from individual congressional offices about the effects in their districts. Secretary of Defense Mike Esper assured that they do not include military family housing, barracks or dormitory projects, and that the delayed construction was in the United States and overseas.
The Pentagon is diverting funds from military construction projects in nearly half the states, three territories and 19 countries affecting nearly every facet of military life, including cancellations of a dining center in Puerto Rico, a small arms firing range in Tulsa, Okla., and an elementary school in Germany, aircraft simulators and hangars, port repairs and a cyberoperations center in Virginia.
It also takes $400 million from projects targeted after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.
Not only that, but a couple hundred million dollars were also taken from federal emergency management money — during hurricane season — towards the Wall, though Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan insists that there is more than enough still in the emergency fund coffers.
Not to be a jerk about this, but if the money is so easily declared fungible as emergency spending needs, perhaps they were not needed in the first place. Either Donald Trump was padding what the military needs or he is withholding from the military to feed his yawning need to declare that he is actually fulfilling a campaign promise, sort of, by having sections of “fencing” under construction.
Esper’s letter outlining the work to be done never uses the word ”Wall,” nor does it acknowledge that all this withholding and transferring is happening for a blatantly political outcome.
To be fair, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this summer upheld the legality of White House emergency declarations that would cover redirecting monies from the Pentagon to homeland security projects like the Wall without going back to Congress first. So, to a certain extent, all this financial stuff is following the court approval.
But the court also never said that this makes for good policy or even good politics. The actions smack of directly serving the reelection campaign needs of Donald Trump over the assessment of whether this is good for our troops. The irony, of course, is that it has been Trump who so leaned on Congress to vastly increase the allotment of budget to a military that already was the biggest, baddest force on planet Earth.
You haven’t heard Trump say, for example, that perhaps we cut the monies he wants to go towards creation of a new Space Force, or cancel one F-35 jet that has not successfully passed all of its introductory tests. The closest that Esper, the former Secretary of the Army, would go in his justification for the money transfer was that the results might allow for redeployment of troops whom Trump has ordered posted to the southern border — — despite the fact that they are barred by law from making any arrests of undocumented immigrants.
Congress will have to reconcile versions of the annual defense policy bill. While the Senate agreed to replace the funds that were expected to be removed from military construction, the House refused to do so and included an additional provision that would bar the administration from trying to reallocate funds in the next fiscal year.
Let’s be clear: We got to this point because Trump insisted that America was facing a national emergency over the border crisis last February. He ordered the fund transfers after allowing a partial government shutdown when Congress refused to include his Wall funds in the actual budget bills.
Now we may have construction starting in about 135 days, according to the Pentagon, though the ACLU has promised to take this decision once again to court. That appeal would be part of a Sierra Club suit against the president’s emergency powers declaration, but would be a “separate and entirely new motion.”
There is enough meat in all of this to prove annoying almost regardless of your politics. Of course, one voter’s red meat is poisonous to the bigger half of the country who are starting ever so slightly to rise in protest against all-things Trump.