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Behind Trump’s ‘unprecedented’ reallocation of DOD money for border security

President Trump is diverting some money for Defense Department infrastructure to instead construct or repair additional barrier sections on the U.S.-Mexico border. The 127 projects losing funding include Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and education and health services at military bases at home and overseas. Lisa Desjardins talks to Judy Woodruff about the details and the reaction.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was one of President Trump's most notable campaign promises, that he would build a wall on country's southern border, and that Mexico would pay for it.

    But now there is word this week of 127 U.S. military projects whose funds will be diverted instead for construction of the border wall.

    Our own Lisa Desjardins has been digging into all of this, and she's here with me now.

    Hello, Lisa.

    So, tell us, where is this money coming from? What are these projects?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's start with that first.

    As you say, it's 127 projects. It totals about $3.6 billion that the president will move to help build border barriers of various sorts. Half of this money is coming from overseas installations. The other half is from military installations here in the U.S.

    Let's look at where those are. Those are affecting 23 states, and I want to leave this up for a minute so people can look at their states.

    Notice, it's really the perimeter of the country. Judy, it's interesting. This affects everything from our service academies like West Point to small and large institutions, training facilities. All of the branches of the service are being affected by this.

    These funds, Judy, that are impacted specifically are those that have been approved by Congress, but there is not a contract yet to start building them. So this means they are at least on hold. The president is gambling Congress will refund them later. It's not clear that Congress will do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, 127 different projects. Tell us a little bit more about what these projects are. Who is going to be affected by this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's a fascinating list.

    And it involves strategic installations and compounds, and it also affect things that affect the quality of life for the men and women who serve in our military.

    Let's look at three that I think are good examples of what we're talking about. One, for example, starting over on the right, $95 million for an elementary school. That's in Okinawa, Japan. That would be for the children of American military service members. Military families depend on those schools. Many of them need constant upkeep or need to be rebuilt.

    That school is now put on hold. Now, moving back, then we see $15 million now put on hold for an ambulatory care center or outpatient health center in Camp Lejeune. Health care, a rising problem in the military in some sectors — that is on hold.

    Now, then, you look there below, $17 million that would have gone to a fire and rescue station in Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Judy, that one is has especially notable. I picked that out because that fire station was damaged in Hurricane Michael last year. They were waiting for those repairs. They will have to continue waiting now because that money has been put on hold again.

    Also, Judy, in this list, probably the one area that saw the most — the largest number of projects deferred is Puerto Rico, $400 million worth of projects there. That's something that Democrats will raise.

    Also, a large number of projects affecting European defense initiatives. That affects our posture with Russia. Those are being put on hold. That's something that European allies are going to watch closely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Puerto Rico, of course, devastated by Hurricane Maria.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So these are just a few examples you're telling us about.

    But, in turn, President Trump has long said he wants this border wall. What is he getting out of this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    And this is important for supporters and opponents of the president to look at. What the president is getting out of this is more border fencing and wall.

    Let's talk about it specifically — 11 projects will be funded, they say. There, you see the steel slat fencing that he's putting up. It will include some of that, along about 175 miles of additional new fencing and some repaired fencing.

    I'm going to point out, it's not all steel slat. Some of it is that so-called Normandy fencing that you saw there as well. So the president is actually going to expand the amount of border barrier because of this money.

    Now, it's 175 miles, but it's a 2,000-mile border.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And tell us, how is he doing this? I mean, this is money that was appropriated by the Congress. So how can the president come in and say, nope, we're not going to spend it for this, we're going to spend it for that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Constitution says that the Treasury can only appropriate money that is passed by appropriations law by Congress.

    So he's getting around that here. This is not the will of Congress. Let's show how the process usually works if a president wants to divert some funding. He would have to go to Congress and ask Congress for permission.

    In this case, we know Congress is not giving that permission because House Democrats do not want to fund this wall. What's he doing instead? He has declared a national emergency for the purpose of going around Congress. He's invoking emergency powers.

    And he is not asking congressional permission, which you usually would have to do even for small amounts of reprogramming. Anything over $20 million, Judy, you need sign-off from Congress. That's significant.

    This is such a huge amount of money. It's really unprecedented in how much he's moving this way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Three-point-six billion, as you just said.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Lisa, this affects, as you shown on that map, a diversity, a political diversity of states, red states, blue states.

    What kind of political reaction has there been?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Democrats are irate about it, as they have been, as they were expecting it.

    They call this stealing, raiding, unconstitutional. However, they so far have lost their battle in court to try and make their case. Courts generally have ruled that if all of Congress doesn't agree, the House and the Senate, they can't take action.

    They are furious. And I think we're going to have to see how this affects the upcoming spending debate this next month, because, in the next 30 days, we're supposed to see another spending bill. I already hear from some Democrats, well, if the Defense Department doesn't need this money, are we going to pay it for them or not?

    Republicans are in a much more tricky position here, Judy. I haven't seen any that are outright defending this idea of diverting money this way. But they are saying that the border needs secure — to be secure. So they're in a tricky position.

    When they come back next week, they will all be tested to find out, are they going to backfill this money, or are they not? It is going to be a very hot political issue for our Congress. And it affects so many towns across this country.

    Judy, dozens of local papers, this was the headline today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And fascinating. As you point out, Lisa, this is happening while the Congress is in recess.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They're not in Washington. It was announced while they're all back home in their states and in their districts.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, excellent reporting. Thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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