The Pentagon notified Congress on Monday that it transferred $1 billion in military personnel funding to construct President Donald Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a memo addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, said he authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and building 57 miles of fencing along the southwestern border, as well as improving roads in Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas, CNN reported.
Democratic lawmakers were swift in their rebuke of the Pentagon chief’s move.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) released a statement Tuesday saying the committee has denied the Department of Defense’s request to reallocate the money for the wall.
“This needs to stop. Based on the unfunded requests received for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget and the issues raised by the Marine Corps, there are obviously more pressing issues with readiness and modernization that these funds could - and more importantly should - go to,” his statement read. “Instead of focusing on readiness, hurricane recovery and other genuine issues, the administration continues to spend billions of dollars on an imaginary crisis.”
In a separate letter to Shanahan on Monday, a group of Democratic senators led by Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Richard Durbin of Illinois objected to the transfer of funds, which they described as a violation of congressional appropriations.
“We strongly object to both the substance of the funding transfer, and to the Department implementing the transfer without seeking the approval of the congressional defense committees and in violation of provisions in the defense appropriation itself,” the senators wrote. “As a result, we have serious concerns that the Department has allowed political interference and pet projects to come ahead of many near-term, critical readiness issues facing our military.”
Noting that the Pentagon requests “billions in mid-year transfers” every year to address “unexpected shortfalls in paying our troops, providing training, maintaining their equipment and accelerating new technologies,” the lawmakers said the reprogramming of funds “constitutes a dollar-for-dollar theft from other readiness needs of our Armed Forces.”
President Trump declared a national emergency last month in an effort to bypass Congress and divert billions of dollars in defense funds to build his long-touted border wall.
The New York Times noted that the Pentagon’s recent transfer was made without using the president’s declaration.
The Defense Department informed Congress last week that hundreds of military construction projects may be cut or delayed to fund the wall’s construction.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Rep. Adam Smith.