Trump has up to $21 billion to use for emergency wall building

February 14, 2019

President Trump has a pool of roughly $21 billion in military construction funds he can use to build the border wall by emergency declaration, congressional aides said Thursday though much of that is already destined for other projects that would have to be put on hold.

The White House said Thursday that the president will follow through on his threat to declare an emergency and use the Pentagon to build fencing, going around a Congress that just denied him most of the money he had sought.

“President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action including a national emergency to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Details on the plans were scarce, though. It wasn’t clear how much money he would need, where he would build the wall, whether he will use new designs, or whether he’ll be able to overcome private property and environmental hurdles.

Mr. Trump also will face myriad lawsuits, and will also have to survive an attempt by Congress to overturn his emergency declaration.

“Make no mistake Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in every way that we can,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

The president had teased an emergency declaration for months, though he said he’d rather have Congress cooperate on trying to find a funding agreement.

Instead Congress, in a new deal this week, gave him only about a quarter of the money he asked for and added insult to injury by placing numerous restrictions on where he can build, what he can build, and when he can build.

His emergency powers could circumvent all of that.

Foremost, it gives him access to money Congress already approved in the Pentagon’s military construction budget. Roughly $10 billion is available in this fiscal year’s budget, and another roughly $11 billion is available in unobligated funds from the past five years’ military construction budgets.

The money has generally been designated for specific projects but the funds so far have not been awarded and no contracts signed, congressional aides said.

In some cases, pulling those funds could, in theory, result in half-completed facilities, if, for example, contracts have been signed for one portion of a construction project but not another.

“He’s free to spend it without a vote from Congress,” a congressional aide said. “He has to notify Congress of what he’s done but he doesn’t have to come to Congress to do it.”

In addition to the $21 billion, another $800 million in counter-drug money is also immediately available, aides said.

As for the suddenly unfunded projects, congressional aides said they will have to “start anew” and Congress would have to specifically appropriate new money for those projects in the upcoming budget.

The White House insisted it is on firm legal footing for an emergency declaration, though Ms. Sanders said there shouldn’t be any.

“The president’s doing his job. Congress should do theirs,” she said.

Just as important will be surviving an expected vote in Congress.

Under the National Emergencies Act, Congress can try to pass a resolution disapproving of his declaration.

To pass it takes just a majority vote in each chamber, but Mr. Trump can veto that move, and it would take two-thirds votes in each chamber to override him.

Some prominent Republican senators said they might vote against the president.

“We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican.

Sen. Rand Paul called the declaration “extraconstitutional.”

But even if there are enough votes to overturn the president in the Senate, getting a two-thirds vote in the House could be tough.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy last week said there will be enough Republicans backing Mr. Trump to sustain him.