President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything “important.”
Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We had certain funds that are being used at the discretion of generals, at the discretion of the military,” Trump said during a White House press conference. “Some of them haven't been allocated yet, and some of the generals think that this is more important.
“I was speaking to a couple of them. They think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said, 'What are you going to use it for?' And I won't go into details, but it didn't sound too important to me.”
Of the money being reprogrammed from the Defense Department, $3.6 billion was meant to fund military construction projects and the remaining $2.5 billion comes from counter-narcotics funding, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters.
None of the money comes from the Army Corps of Engineers' funding for hurricane reconstruction projects in Puerto Rico or Texas, Mulvaney said during a conference call before the president's speech.
It was not immediately clear which military construction projects would be affected by the president's move.
“We will be looking at lower priority military construction projects,” a senior administration official said during the conference call. “We will be looking at ones that are to fix or repair particular facilities that might be to wait a couple of months into next year. We're going through a filter to ensure that nothing impacts lethality, readiness on the part of our military construction budget – which is a budget that is substantially larger than $3.6 billion.”
The Defense Department will be reimbursed for the $6.1 billion in the fiscal 2020 budget, a senior administration official said. The money will go toward building 284 miles of barriers on the southwestern border.
Trump argued that the money being reprogrammed for the border wall represents a small fraction of the $700 billion and $716 billion that Congress appropriated for the Defense Department in fiscals 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The president added that his proposed fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which should be presented to Congress in March, will be “pretty big too.”
“When you think about the kind of numbers you're talking about – so you have $700 billion, $716 billion – when I need $2 billion, $3 billion out of that for a wall, which is a very important instrument – very important for the military, because of the drugs that pour in … when you have that kind of money going into the military, this is a very, very small amount that we're asking for.”