Remember way back in February when President Trump declared a national emergency in order to fund the construction of a wall along the southern border? That’s still a thing, and with the senate getting ready to vote on a resolution to “terminate” the action, the White House is scrambling to find government programs from it they can siphon wall funding without causing too much of a stir. The latest target is … salaries and pensions for service members. “It’s coming out of military pay and pensions,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told the Associated Press. “$1 billion. That’s the plan.”
The administration’s rationale is supposedly that recruitment is down and an early-retirement program is being underused. “Imagine the Democrats making that proposal — that for whatever our project is, we’re going to cut military pay and pensions,” added Durbin, the top Democrat on the appropriations panel for the Pentagon. He isn’t the only Senate Democrat in disbelief. “President @realDonaldTrump is planning to steal from military pay and pensions to pay for his wall?” tweeted Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “Military members and families should not have to suffer because he failed to achieve this with Congress. Congress must vote to stop this now.” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) — who sits on an appropriations subcommittee for military construction, which the administration has also been trying tap for wall funding — implored his followers to call their senator to “tell them not to raid pay, pensions, and military construction projects for the Wall.”
Last last month, the House of Representatives approved a resolution to squash Trump’s national emergency declaration. Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, the Senate must bring the bill to a vote within 18 days of its passage in the House. That vote is expected to occur next week, and even though Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, the resolution is likely to pass. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have already said they will support it. If they do, the measure will be sent to the president’s desk. The White House has indicated that Trump will veto the bill, but forcing him to do so would be an extraordinary bipartisan rebuke of his abuse of executive privilege.
Despite the likelihood of the resolution passing, the Washington Post reported on Thursday that the White House is doing all it can to pressure undecided Republicans into voting against it. Part of that effort has been to allegedly threaten senators into voting to protect the declaration. According to the Post, the White House is sending a “clear” message that “Trump is taking names and noticing who opposes him — particularly if you are running for reelection next year.”
Trump has also been ramping up the border talk on Twitter, in some cases taking direct aim at Senate Republicans who may be waffling.
Senate Republicans are not voting on constitutionality or precedent, they are voting on desperately needed Border Security & the Wall. Our Country is being invaded with Drugs, Human Traffickers, & Criminals of all shapes and sizes. That’s what this vote is all about. STAY UNITED!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 6, 2019
Meanwhile, Republicans are reportedly urging Trump to rethink the declaration entirely, arguing that there are easier, less controversial ways to find the $3.6 billion the White House is trying to scrounge up so construction can begin. “The amount of money that’s available to him without declaring an emergency does meet his request,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WW), referring to $4 billion in funding that will be freed up in 2020, according to The Hill. “That is definitely the message.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has also questioned the declaration, citing other sources of available funding that did not necessitate executive action. “They can get the money they need from the first two pots, the forfeiture fund and the anti-drug fund, so I’m not sure why they’d ever even get to the third one, which is stirring up the controversy,” he said, according to the Post. “But we’ll see how that resolves.”
Some lawmakers are pushing to pass legislation curbing the president’s power to circumvent Congress. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) is reportedly working on an amendment to the National Securities Act that would render a declaration void unless Congress approves it within 30 days, a move that other Senate Republicans have supported. Others are simply wondering exactly which programs the administration plans to raid for wall funding. The money may come from a number of military construction projects, it may come from military pay and pension; but it does appear as if it’s going to come from somewhere, as Trump has made clear that he is not backing down from the declaration. “I think he’s made his decision,” said Sen. Paul, according to The Hill. “His decision will continue short of something changing.”
This seems like a good time for a reminder that prior to the 2016 election Trump promised repeatedly that Mexico would pay for the wall.