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California escapes brunt of Pentagon funding deferrals to pay for Trump’s border wall

President Trump tours border wall prototypes
President Trump tours border wall prototypes near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California in March 2018.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Pentagon will defer spending about $8 million that had been earmarked for a flight simulator facility in Ventura County, a casualty of President Trump’s effort to fund construction of 175 miles of new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

California’s military projects largely escaped the brunt of Trump’s funding diversion, however, while Puerto Rico, Guam, New Mexico, Alaska and New York were among those losing the most money.

The Defense Department began sharing details Wednesday about the military construction projects that would be affected after Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved removing $3.6 billion from 127 projects to construct parts of the wall along the southern border. Officials said half the money would come from military projects in the U.S. and the rest from projects in other countries.

The diversion of funds was triggered by Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in February after Congress refused to allocate the billions he wanted for a barrier, one he had long insisted would be paid for by Mexico. The order authorized the use of military construction funds and money from other parts of the federal budget for the wall’s construction.

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The only California project affected was the proposed construction of a C-130 flight simulator facility at the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Ventura County.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein blasted the diversion of funding. “The decision by the administration to divert funds from military construction projects in order to build the president’s ill-conceived wall is irresponsible. Congress appropriated these funds for specific military construction projects, and that’s how the funds should be used,” she said.

“I’m particularly concerned that the Defense Department is taking $8 million away from the California Air National Guard. Those funds were intended for a C-130 simulator at Channel Islands Air Guard Station so pilots could train for disaster response,” Feinstein added.

In selecting the projects that would be affected, Defense officials said they focused on future projects in the hopes that the money could eventually be restored by Congress, the Associated Press reported. Officials also said projects that provided housing or critical infrastructure for troops would not be affected.

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The construction of a wall along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border has been one of Trump’s signature promises, and one that he has aggressively pursued. The wall, among other immigration issues, has also been a flashpoint between Trump and California. The state has filed 57 legal challenges against Trump’s administration during the course of his presidency, 13 of which involve immigration policies, including a dispute over funding for a new border wall.

The L.A. Times finds the Trump administration appears to be violating U.S. law in implementing the Remain in Mexico policy, officials and lawyers warn.

When Trump was on the campaign trail, he vowed to erect a southern border wall to block people from illegally crossing into the U.S. But the wall project has seen little headway, largely because of the fight between the White House and lawmakers over funding the project. In addition to declaring a national emergency, Trump’s bitter clash with Congress to fund the border wall included a government shutdown and legal battles challenging the government’s spending policy.

Trump hasn’t gotten any wall funding from Congress, which approved $1.375 billion for border barriers in this year’s budget, far less than the $5.7 billion the president sought. When he declared a national emergency at the border, the president called for $8.1 billion for wall construction. So far, the transferred funds include $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from Defense Department anti-drug activities and the $3.6 billion just approved by Esper, according to the Associated Press.

As the project moves ahead with funding from the Defense Department, the AP reported that the money is expected to fund 11 border projects in El Paso and Laredo, Texas; San Diego and El Centro, Calif.; and Yuma, Ariz. The construction will involve either replacing existing barriers or reinforcing them on Defense Department or other federal land, and private property.

The shuffling of funds triggered backlash from activist groups and congressional leaders who argue the measure encroaches on Congress’ power to oversee spending.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Tuesday that canceling funds for projects overseen by the Defense Department would take funding away from counter-narcotics efforts and stability and security initiatives.

“The president is negating the Constitution’s most fundamental principle, the separation of powers, by assaulting our congressional ‘power of the purse,’ and is undermining the oath of office we take to protect and defend the Constitution and the American people,” Pelosi said in a statement, adding that the House would fight the decision.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted that the decision, which would affect projects at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, is “a slap in the face” to members of the military and attacked Trump for his willingness to “cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego, and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also announced that it would seek a court order blocking use of the funds.

“The fact that the government sat on these so-called ‘emergency funds’ for seven months further confirms that this is nothing but an unlawful power grab,” said Dror Ladin, a staff attorney with the ACLU, in a statement. “We’ll be back in court very soon to block Trump’s latest effort to raid military funds for his xenophobic wall.”


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