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DOD earmarks $1B for construction of 57 miles of fencing

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President Donald Trump vetoed a congressional resolution that was blocking his border wall emergency.
USA TODAY

A Pentagon decision to redirect up to $1 billion to build 57 miles of fencing along the Mexican border was slapped down Tuesday by a House panel that rejected the “reprogramming action.”

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to plan and build the 18-foot-high fencing and to construct and upgrade roads and install lighting near the border in Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas.

Shanahan said the $1 billion plan was in support of the national emergency declaration President Donald Trump issued last month after Congress refused to appropriate the $5.7 billion he wanted for construction of the wall. 

“The committee denies this request,” U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to the Defense Department comptroller. “The committee does not approve the proposed use of Department of Defense funds to construct physical barriers and roads or install lighting in the vicinity of the United State border.” 

Some Republicans also were skeptical. Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry said he opposes using defense funding for other purposes but suggested Shanahan wa facing “a lot of criticism for decisions that you had nothing to do with.”

Shanahan said he understood the concerns but added that he was executing a “legal order from the commander in chief.”

It was not immediately clear what impact the committee’s decision would have on the construction effort. Trump has repeatedly claimed the wall is needed to keep criminals from entering the U.S. Shanahan cited the need to “block drug-smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of federal law enforcement agencies.”

Shanahan, in testimony Tuesday before Smith’s panel, reiterated his claim that the transfer of funds to the wall won’t jeopardize national security. 

Shanahan announced the $1 billion plan late Monday. It immediately drew a sharp response from Democrats, with several senators on the Appropriations Committee signing a letter blasting Shanahan for failing to seek approval of the congressional defense committees.

“We have serious concerns that the department has allowed political interference and pet projects to come ahead of many near-term, critical readiness issues,” the letter said.

Trump’s emergency declaration sparked controversy, some of it from his own party. The House was schedule to vote Tuesday on Trump’s veto of a congressional resolution that would have voided the emergency declaration. Foes of Trump’s plan, however, did not appear to have the two-thirds majority required to override.

“The President’s veto will be upheld,” Tweeted Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California. “We will #SecureTheBorder.”

Trump says his declaration of a national emergency to build the wall allows him to tap billions targeted for military construction projects ranging from garages and air traffic control towers. The projects have been approved by Congress, but contracts have not yet been signed.

Last week, Shanahan forwarded to Congress the list of construction projects the Pentagon could delay but not cancel to redirect funds to the wall. 

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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