As Trump Deploys Troops, Is U.S. Spending Millions on an ‘October Surprise’?

As President Donald Trump defended his decision to send as many as 15,000 troops to the southern border in anticipation of several caravans of Central American migrants making their way to the U.S., critics have hit out at the U.S. leader accusing him of wasting millions on an "October surprise." 

On Wednesday, the president announced that his administration could be sending nearly three times the 5,200 troops the president initially said he planned to deploy to the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Speaking with ABC Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, the U.S. leader defended the addition by asserting that the country needed to "have a wall of people" stationed at the border. The first caravan of Central American migrants, which departed from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on October 13 and is making its way through Mexico toward the U.S., is still more than 850 miles away from American soil. 

GettyImages-1055764670 Salvadoran migrants, inspired by several other caravans already making their way to the U.S. border, embark on a journey to the United States, in San Salvador, El Salvador, on October 31. The Trump administration said it could be sending as many as 15,000 troops to the southern border in response to the approaching caravans. MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty

Critics, including Democrats and immigration and civil rights advocacy groups, have hit out at the decision and have accused the president of exploiting the situation at the border to influence the outcome of the upcoming November midterm elections. 

"We are sending 10 to 15,000 troops, which means we are going to spend between $100 [million] and $150 million, so he can have, I guess, his surprise, his October surprise," said Democratic Representative Jackie Speier of California on CNN's The Situation Room, using a term used to describe news events that are either deliberately timed or that occur spontaneously to influence the outcome of an election.

It is still unclear exactly how much the Trump administration's troop deployment will cost the U.S., but based on previous deployments, it is likely to cost at least tens of millions of dollars in initial costs alone. 

On Tuesday, Kelly Magsamen, vice president for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress, who also served as a former member of the National Security Council under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, called the Trump administration's initial decision to deploy 5,200 active duty troops a "craven political stunt." 

“The move to send 5,200 active duty troops to the southern border is a craven political stunt that sets a bad precedent and is arguably an abuse of power," Magsamen said. 

The former National Security Council member said that if Department of Defense Secretary James Mattis believes that the deployment is "an appropriate use of active duty military to address a real threat, he should defend the decision publicly and before Congress."

"If not," Magsamen said," "he should resign." 

"Sending active duty troops to the border is a misuse of resources, when National Guard troops can perform the same duties," Magsamen said. "Trump is only doing this to whip the public into a frenzy over an invasion threat that does not exist.”

Mattis has dismissed those accusing the Trump administration of using the caravans headed towards the U.S. as a political stunt to bolster Republican support. 

Taking questions from the press after a meeting with South Korea's National Defense Minister on Wednesday, Mattis rejected the claim, asserting that the Department of Defense does not "do stunts." 

“The support that we provide to the secretary of Homeland Security is tactical support based on the request from the commissioner of customs and border police,” Mattis said. “So we don’t do stunts in this department, thank you.”

Currently, there are at least four caravans of Central Americans, including asylum seekers from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, heading towards the U.S. border. 

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