WASHINGTON – Nearly a full four weeks into President Donald Trump’s “national emergency” over his claims of an “invasion” at the southern border, his Department of Homeland Security has yet to submit a list of projects for which it needs Defense Department money.
That list would be the basis for siphoning off billions of dollars in Pentagon funding to pay for a wall along the Mexican border – a wall Trump promised many hundreds of times that he would force Mexico to pay for, but which he never asked Mexican leaders about even once.
The lackadaisical pace following Trump’s Feb. 15 declaration is proof that this is not an actual emergency, never mind the number of years it will take to build a wall once the funding source is identified, said Elizabeth Goitein, an expert on national emergency declarations at the Brennen Center for Justice.
“There’s no such thing as a 10-year solution to an emergency,” she said.
Neither DHS nor the White House responded to HuffPost queries about why that agency had not yet put together a plan for use of DOD money if the situation at the border is as big a “crisis” as the president continues to claim.
A Pentagon official told HuffPost on condition of anonymity last week: “Once DHS provides a list of the projects they request assistance on, the secretary will determine if DOD can support. If DOD supports, then we’ll be able to start construction.”
As of Monday, the official said, DHS had still not provided that list.
Trump’s proposed 2020 budget asks Congress for another $8.6 billion, which would be enough to “finish” the wall, according to his acting budget chief Russell Vought. That amount is $7 billion more than the administration asked for the border barrier in any of Trump’s previous budget requests.
There’s no such thing as a 10-year solution to an emergency." Elizabeth Goitein, an expert at the Brennen Center for Justice.
Trump did not start making wall funding an issue until Fox News and radio talk show hosts started ridiculing him last March for failing to deliver on his signature campaign promise. Since then he has swung frequently from claiming – falsely – that much of his wall is already under construction to claiming – also falsely – that record numbers of human traffickers, drug smugglers and common criminals are entering the country at points along the border where there is no physical barrier.
Republicans close to the White House acknowledge privately that Trump’s interest is primarily driven by satisfying his core supporters who badly want a wall. One outside Trump adviser said the president is not that worried that legislation undoing his Feb. 15 emergency declaration will almost certainly pass the Senate this week with at least some Republican votes.
“So we lose, he’ll veto and they won’t be able to override him,” the adviser said on condition of anonymity.
Trump’s declaration would let him divert more than $6 billion from DOD programs to build his border wall: $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s drug interdiction program, and $3.6 billion from its construction projects.
Multiple lawsuits have also been filed in hopes of blocking Trump’s emergency declaration – the first such national emergency in the 43 years of the law’s existence that attempts to overrule a policy and funding choice that was specifically made by Congress.
Trump, hoping to minimize Republican “yes” votes on the disapproval proposal, has insisted that Republicans remain loyal to him.
“Republican Senators have a very easy vote this week. It is about Border Security and the Wall (stopping Crime, Drugs etc.), not Constitutionality and Precedent,” he wrote on Twitter Monday. “The Dems are 100% United, as usual, on a 20% issue, Open Borders and Crime. Get tough R’s!”