“Such a controversial move could only be funded by cutting other vital priorities for our service members, mere weeks after the Department communicated its needs to the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee during omnibus appropriation negotiations,” Durbin and Reed wrote to Mattis.
They added that after reviewing appropriations law, “we conclude that the Department of Defense has no legal authority, with or without a reprogramming request, to use appropriated funds for the construction of a border wall.” The Pentagon secured about $700 billion in the spending package that Trump reluctantly signed into law last month.
Durbin is the top Democrat on the Senate panel overseeing Pentagon funding, while Reed is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Washington Post reported last month on Trump’s conversations with advisers and with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and detailed the president’s private suggestions that the Defense Department could fund the border wall by citing a “national security” risk.
But Congress maintains authority over how federal agencies spend money, and officials at the Pentagon have said that it cannot use its money for Trump’s border wall absent congressional action.
Trump’s continued demand for border wall funds stems from the battle last month over funding the government, during which the administration secured $1.6 billion for his signature project. That is far less than the $25 billion the president sought, and it allowed only for “operationally effective designs” that had been already deployed as of last May.
The president was so incensed by the lack of funding for his border wall, among other issues with the omnibus spending measure, that he briefly threatened to veto the $1.3 trillion bill, which will keep federal government operations running until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.