- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Senate Republicans took first steps Tuesday to approve $5 billion in new border wall money, though some are warning President Trump against another attempt to grab money from the Pentagon to build more wall than Congress approved.

The Senate will vote this week on a formal rebuke to Mr. Trump’s previous move in February, when he declared a national emergency at the border and said he would siphon billions of dollars from Defense Department accounts and use it to build border barriers.

Mr. Trump finalized $3.6 billion of that money earlier this month, giving Congress another chance to try halt the move.

“There is a line here that I believe has been overstepped,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who said she’ll vote to back the $5 billion in new money, but will also vote for the rebuke over how Mr. Trump handled the money in the past.

Ms. Murkowski was one of a dozen Senate Republicans who voted with Democrats in March to overturn Mr. Trump’s declaration of an emergency along the southern border and try to prevent him from tapping Pentagon funds to build new wall.

The Democrat-led House had also passed the resolution of disapproval in February, but neither chamber had the numbers to overturn Mr. Trump’s veto.

That same scenario is likely to play out again after this week’s vote — though Democrats say they have a stronger hand this time because they now have the list of military construction projects that are being halted so the money can be shifted to the border wall.

“Many of my Republican colleagues have military installations with major projects in their states that would suffer because of the president’s emergency declaration,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. “The president promised Mexico would pay for it. Sadly, it’s our military and their families that seem to be paying for it.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrat, said Tuesday that the president is “stealing” money from a critical mission at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs.

“It’s an illustration of how much the Republican Party has actually the party of Donald Trump. But it’s certainly not an illustration of how conservative these members of the Senate are,” said Mr. Bennet, a 2020 presidential candidate.

Mr. Trump requested $5 billion in border wall money for 2019, but Congress approved just $1.375 billion. The president signed that bill, but turned around and declared the border emergency, tapping nearly $7 billion in additional money, most of it from the Pentagon, that he said could be used to build despite Congress’s objections.

Mr. Trump has asked for another $5 billion for 2020, and that’s the money the Senate Appropriations Committee is now debating. The money cleared the panel’s Homeland Security subcommittee Tuesday, but Democrats vowed a bigger fight as the bill advances to the full committee later this week and to the Senate floor later.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on that subcommittee, said he could support some of Mr. Trump’s border wall request if he had more assurances that the money wasn’t being wasted. As it stands, though, he said Homeland Security has no idea how it would spend the $5 billion.

“This is a lot of damn money. I mean, it’s a lot of money,” he said.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican, said Homeland Security presented a lengthy justification for its border wall plans last year, delivering a thick volume of plans and an extensive briefing on how the money would be used.

“With the $5 billion that’s in this bill, this gets us through the top 17 in the high-priority areas,” said Ms. Capito, who chairs the Homeland Security subcommittee.

The wall is one of the big sticking points as Congress tries to head off another government shutdown and fund operations for fiscal 2020. Without an agreement, funding will run out next Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday his chamber will take up a stopgap bill this week that would keep the government running through Nov. 21, putting off a final showdown over the border wall. The House passed the short-term bill last week.

Another point of contention in the broader debate is how endangered the Pentagon projects truly are, amid the warnings from Democrats such as Mr. Schumer and Mr. Bennet.

When the Defense Department released the list of projects that could be affected earlier this month, officials said they might not even be delayed if Congress agreed to approve supplemental funding.

“If Congress were to back-fill the projects none of the projects would be delayed,” said Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Elaine McCusker. “But we do realize this could cause some delay. They’re definitely not canceled.”

But Democrats have rejected that idea.

“I say no back-filling is going to help unless we stop these raids” on the military budget, said Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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