House Armed Services Denies Pentagon's $1 Billion Request for Border Wall

(L-R) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan testify during a House Armed Services Committee hearing regarding the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense, March 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump has asked for a Pentagon budget of over 700 billion dollars for the 2020 budget. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Congressional lawmakers shot down a Pentagon request to shift $1 billion from a military personnel account to fund President Donald Trump's southern border wall.

The House Armed Services Chairman, Democratic Representative Adam Smith of Washington state, denied the Defense Department request on Tuesday in a letter to David L. Norquist, the Pentagon's comptroller and chief financial officer.

In his letter, Smith wrote: "The committee does not approve the proposed use of Department of Defense funds to construct additional physical barriers and roads or install lighting in the vicinity of the United States Border."

Pentagon officials told Congress that the billion dollars in funding became available for use after service branches failed to meet their recruiting goals and President Trump's declaration of a national emergency paved the legal way for funds to be reallocated to the border.

However, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan did acknowledge on Tuesday that the controversial shift of funds could put at risk the Defense Department's authority to reprogram funds into other U.S. military initiatives and programs it deems necessary.

The caveat to shifting fiscal year funds allocated to the military from one program to another only occurs in cases on which Congress is consulted before the Pentagon acts. Smith said the Defense Department did not ask permission.

Shanahan said they were given "a legal order from the commander in chief," and the U.S. military was executing the president's order. Shanahan added that the Pentagon was aware of the financial pitfalls and the risk of losing the authority to reprogram funds.

Pentagon officials have faced increased scrutiny since President Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, after Congress turned down his request for $5.7 billion to pay for the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The House passed a bill on February 26 overturning Trump's national emergency declaration, and the Senate passed it, but Trump used his veto authority for the first time to shoot down the bill. Several lawsuits were filed in federal courts to challenge the emergency's constitutionality; the president said he expected them.

On Tuesday, House Democrats failed to override the president's veto on Congress's attempt to end the national emergency. The chamber vote of 248-181 fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

"We will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, even though it shouldn't be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we will get another bad ruling, and then we will end up in the Supreme Court," Trump said on February 15 in the White House Rose Garden. "Hopefully, we will get a fair shake, and we will win in the Supreme Court."

The president previously said senior military leaders he had spoken with told him the border wall was more important than the military's planned construction projects.

"Some of them haven't been allocated yet, and some of the generals think that this is more important," Trump told reporters in February. "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 were you going to use it for?' and I won't go into details, but didn't sound too important to me."

Last week, The Los Angeles Times obtained two internal memos from U.S. Marine Corps General Robert Neller in which the commandant of the Marines said that the deployment of U.S. troops to the southwest border and transfer of Pentagon dollars to fund the southern border wall poses "[an] unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency."

Congressional lawmakers on Tuesday used Neller's memos to try to bolster the argument that the southern border wall is not necessary.

U.S. Marine General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, attempted to clarify Neller's emails to Congress, saying, that the Marine commandant listed a number of "unanticipated bills" the Marine Corps had been confronted with, including, support for the southern border.

Dunford said the bills made it difficult for him to fund other Marine priorities.

"This letter wasn't about the southwest border," Dunford told Congress indicating that the border was identified by Neller as an "unanticipated bill."

Correction: During the editing process, Representative Adam Smith's congressional state was inadvertently changed from Washington state to the District of Columbia. Smith is a congressman from Washington state, where he represents the 9th District. This article has been updated.

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