The Defense Department confirmed Thursday the White House and Defense Secretary James N. Mattis have discussed the feasibility of funneling billions of dollars from the Pentagon’s coffers to help build a border wall with Mexico.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters Thursday Mr. Mattis and Mr. Trump had an initial talk about the use of Defense Department money approved in the recent massive federal spending bill for the wall, a top priority of the president in the 2016 presidential campaign. The president has repeatedly defended the wall as vital to national security, although it is not clear that money Congress targeted for military services and systems can be used for the wall.
“They have talked about the proposal, potentially,” Ms. White told reporters at the Defense Department.
“Securing Americans and securing the nation is paramount — of paramount importance to the secretary. They have talked about it, but I don’t have any more details with respect to any specifics,” she added.
Ms. White’s comments came days after recent reports claimed Mr. Trump was considering shifting an unknown portion of Defense Department funds, set aside for department operations in the recently approved omnibus spending package, toward the border wall effort.
Mr. Trump openly weighed vetoing the bipartisan $1.3 trillion bill last week, which set aside billions for new weapons and training for U.S. forces but only provided $1.6 billion for highly restricted improvements to the fencing along the border. Democrats blocked more funding after a deal with the president to deal to help the younger illegal immigrants known as Dreamers facing deportation fell apart.
During a nationally televised press conference, Mr. Trump vowed never to sign a similar catch-all spending package into law, saying it was passed by Congress in a rush and combined a vast array of programs and policy choices that had to be accepted or rejected as a single package.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Trump turned to Twitter to stoke speculation he would look to the Pentagon to fund and build the wall, tweeting that the erecting a “great border wall” is “all about national defense,” adding the U.S. will “Build WALL through M!” “M,” Trump aides said later, stood for the military.
The tweet came shortly after prominent conservative commentator Ann Coulter pushed the same idea of building the wall as a matter of national defense.
“[We] engage in a lot of military actions around the world,” she said on Fox News. “I think it can be done right on our border as part of the defense, have the Seabees do it,” referring to the Navy’s construction engineer service.
On Thursday, Ms. White repeatedly declined to comment on what options Mr. Mattis and Mr. Trump discussed to pay for and complete the border wall program. She said it was far too early to even speculate on whether diverting Pentagon funds to an estimated $25 billion wall-building project would affect military readiness.
“I think that’s a bridge too far because we don’t have those details and, again, it’s been an initial conversation, so I don’t have any more details,” she said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that Mr. Trump will make sure that any action he takes to build the wall will be “fully within his rights and his executive authority.”
“I can’t get into the specifics of that at this point,” she told reporters. “But I can tell you that the continuation of building the wall is ongoing and we’re going to continue moving forward in that process.”