PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP reasserted a directive Wednesday – that the Pentagon quietly dismissed last week – that the military will assume responsibility for building a wall along the southern U.S. border.
Trump’s announcement follows reports that the president withdrew his demand for $5 billion in funding for a border wall amid a lack of support in Congress as lawmakers seek a funding compromise that will keep the government open. Trump also repeated claims that a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico will generate revenue that will fulfill his campaign promise of forcing America’s southern neighbor to pay for the wall.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated Tuesday that the administration was looking for other elements of the government that could fulfill one of the president’s signature campaign promises.
“Mexico is paying (indirectly) for the Wall through the new USMCA, the replacement for NAFTA!” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the revised version of the North American Free Trade Agreement that he has rebranded as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. “Far more money coming to the U.S. Because of the tremendous dangers at the Border, including large scale criminal and drug inflow, the United States Military will build the Wall!”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Army headquarters currently overseeing domestic operations along the U.S. border deferred questions to the Pentagon, which did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
But on Dec. 11, following Trump’s initial claims that he would direct the military to begin wall construction, Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said, “to date, there is no plan to build sections of the wall.”
“However, Congress has provided options under Title 10 U.S. Code that could permit the Defense Department to fund border barrier projects, such as in support of counter drug operations or national emergencies.”
The statement from a department that regularly touts its ability to respond to directives immediately was seen as a way to push back on an unplanned demand from the president without openly contradicting the commander in chief.
Trump has hinted at the idea of using the military to pay for or build the wall, including in March. Federal agencies, however, cannot reappropriate funds without congressional approval. And top legislators on Capitol Hill have questioned whether Trump’s authority to deploy the military could extend to building a permanent barrier.
“The real issue here is the money. There is nothing in the DOD budget that I could recognize as authorizing them to build a wall. I don’t know where they get the authority,” Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said, according to The Washington Examiner.
Trump has previously used his executive power to deploy the military in support of domestic border issues without an apparent funding mechanism. In October, shortly before the November midterm elections, he announced that thousands of U.S. service members would temporarily deploy to border crossings in Texas, Arizona and California and unguarded portions of the southern border to help build fencing and wire barriers, and provide logistic support to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Trump claimed this was a necessary response to a caravan of hundreds of migrants approaching the U.S. from Central America.
Top military officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, pushed back at the time on Trump’s assertions that the military would serve as a police force, saying its responsibilities were limited to logistics and support roles.
That deployment is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars, which will likely come out of the Defense Department’s operating budget.