Lawmakers move to block the Pentagon's $1 billion transfer for Trump's border wall

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U.S. Marines deploy concertina wire at the U.S.-Mexico border in preparation for the arrival of a caravan of migrants at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego, California, November 15, 2018. (Reuters/Mike Blake)

Lawmakers moved to block the Department of Defense's move to transfer $1 billion for the construction of a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, the latest showdown in the battle over the border wall that President Trump has vowed to build.


On Monday, the Pentagon authorized the transfer of funds to Army engineers for projects along the border, which include building 57 miles of 18-foot-high fencing, constructing and improving roads, and installing lighting in support of Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol. The move was carried out under the president's declaration of a national emergency, the department said in a statement.

As Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan was testifying before his committee, Rep. Adam Smith, the Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, released a letter denying the Pentagon's move to reprogram $1 billion.

"The House Committee on Armed Services has competed its review of the proposed reprogramming request," Smith's letter read, according to a copy obtained by Military Times. "The committee denies this request."

In a more detailed statement, Smith called the Department of Defense's decision to reprogram $1 billion without Congressional approval a violation of trust. "DoD is attempting to circumvent Congress and the American people's opposition to using taxpayer money for the construction of an unnecessary wall."

Smith noted that the military is paying the price, referencing a recent request by the Marine Corps for additional funding to cover unexpected costs, which included hurricane relief and the troop deployments to the US-Mexico border, among other things.

"This needs to stop," Smith said, adding: "The administration should stop using our service members as a political tool and instead focus on building military capabilities and readiness in areas where we should focus our defense resources. Congress will act to defend its constitutional prerogatives."

Shanahan, who appeared before the House Armed Services Committee with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Pentagon comptroller David Norquist, argued that "military construction on the border will not come at the expense of our people, our readiness, or our modernization."

As Smith warned that the Pentagon could lose its funding flexibility, specifically the department's reprogramming privileges, Shanahan said that the risks have been weighed and the Department of Defense understands the potential consequences.

Rep. Joe Courtney, a Connecticut Democrat, called this a "rubicon moment" for Congress and the Pentagon.

Read more from Business Insider:

SEE ALSO: Pentagon To Congress: Here's Every Project That Could Be Used To Fund Trump's Wall. Or Not. We Don't Even Know

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The Marines face military court proceedings on various charges, from "alleged transporting and/or conspiring to transport undocumented immigrants" to larceny, perjury, distribution of drugs, and failure to obey an order. "They remain innocent until proven guilty," said spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz.

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Arizona Army National Guard soldiers with the 160th and 159th Financial Management Support Detachments qualify with the M249 squad automatic weapon at the Florence Military Reservation firing range on March 8, 2019. (U.S. Army/Spc. Laura Bauer)

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"The Army Reserve is cashing in on uncompensated sacrifices of its Soldiers on a scale that must be in the tens of millions of dollars, and that is a violation of trust, stewardship, and the Army Values," one Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, who also complained that his battalion commander "demanded" that he be available at all times, told members of an Army Transition Team earlier this year.

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Lt. Gen. Eric J. Wesley, who served as the director of the transition team, said in the document's opening that though the surveys conducted are not scientific, the feedback "is honest and emblematic of the force as a whole taken from seven installations and over 400 respondents."

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