During the 2016 election, Donald Trump repeatedly pledged that, as president, he would get Mexico to pay for the construction of his much-promised wall along the U.S. southern border.
This week, his administration revealed that it would be paying for the wall instead by diverting funds meant for the construction of elementary schools, hazardous waste warehouse facilities, and fire stations.
The Pentagon will cut funding from military projects to pay for the construction of 175 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, diverting a total $3.6 billion to President Trump’s long-promised barrier.
Projects in 23 states, 19 countries and three U.S. territories would be stalled or killed by the plan, according to a list released by the Pentagon.
Almost $700 million would come from projects in U.S. territories, with another $1.8 billion coming from projects on overseas bases.
Among the notable items now on the backburner include $62 million for a middle school at Ft. Campbell in Kentucky, $13 million for a “child development center” at Joint Base Andrews near Washington, more than $40 million to replace a hazardous materials warehouse in Virginia, nearly $11 million for a fire station replacement in Beaufort, South Carolina; nearly $95 million for an elementary school at Camp Mctureous in Japan; and nearly $80 million for an elementary school replacement project in Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, will have $400 million in funding for 10 projects put on hold.
The projects include a power substation and a National Guard readiness center.
Guam will lose $250 million in funding.
Trump’s move would take the biggest step yet in delivering on his promise to build a wall to block immigrants from entering the country illegally.
But it may come at the expense of projects that the Pentagon acknowledged may be difficult to fund anew.
Capitol Hill Democrats, outraged over Trump’s use of an emergency order for the wall, promised they won’t approve money to revive them.
In addition, new stretches of fencing proposed along the Rio Grande and through a wildlife refuge in Arizona promise to ignite legal battles that could delay the wall projects as well.
The military base projects facing the chopping block tend to address less urgent needs like new parking at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and a variety of small arms ranges at bases in Wisconsin and Oklahoma.
But a “cyber ops facility” in Hampton, Virginia, and the expansion of a missile defense field at Fort Greeley, Alaska, face the ax, too.
Trump has so far succeeded in building replacement barriers within the 654 miles of fencing built during the Obama and Bush administrations.
The funding shift will allow for about 115 miles of new pedestrian fencing in areas where there isn’t any now.
“The wall is being built. It’s going up rapidly,” Trump said Wednesday. “And we think by the end of next year, which will be sometime right after the election actually, but we think we’re going to have close to 500 miles of wall, which will be complete.”
New stretches of fencing are sure to spark legal battles with angry landowners and environmentalists.
The Pentagon plan also fuels the persistent controversy between the Trump administration and Congress over immigration policies and the funding of the border wall.
“It doesn’t take any input from the local communities. It will take away from the private property rights,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas. “We are going to do everything we can to stop the president.”
Cuellar suggested Democrats will look at a must-pass funding bill this month — required to prevent a government shutdown Oct. 1 — to try to take on Trump.
But a more likely venue for the battle could be ongoing House-Senate negotiations over the annual Pentagon policy measure.
“To pay for his xenophobic border wall boondoggle, President Trump is about to weaken our national security by stealing billions of dollars from our military,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who chairs a key military construction panel. “The House of Representatives will not backfill any projects he steals from today.”
One of the Senate’s most endangered Republicans in the 2020 election, Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, reported that her state is getting nicked for just $30 million from a project that was being delayed anyway.
Georgia, where two potentially competitive Senate races loom next year, would be spared entirely, though powerful Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., himself facing re-election, would lose a $63 million middle school at Fort Campbell.