Trump wants the military, not Mexico, to pay for the border wall

Trump is now saying that he wants to use military funds to pay for his long-promised US-Mexico border wall

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 28, 2018 1:51PM (EDT)

 (Reuters/Rick Wilking/Getty/David McNew/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Rick Wilking/Getty/David McNew/Photo montage by Salon)

Having failed to receive the border wall funding that he wanted in the omnibus spending bill, President Donald Trump is now suggesting that the wall be funded through more unorthodox means — that is, with military spending.

The "M" in Trump's tweet doesn't stand for Mexico.

Because the president only received $1.6 billion for border wall construction — well under the $25 billion that he had hoped for — he has asked Secretary of Defense James Mattis and various congressional leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, whether he could divert military funds for the project, according to The Washington Post. Trump has justified this request by arguing that America's porous border constitutes a "national security" risk.

Trump's argument appears to be that because the Defense Department received roughly $700 billion in the omnibus spending bill, they could afford to allocate some of that money to his border wall. While they might be able to afford it, the problem is that money can't simply be diverted from Pentagon-related projects to entirely new ones without congressional approval. It is considered highly unlikely that Trump would be able to submit a budget amendment to that effect that would receive the 60 Senate votes necessary to be passed (there are only 51 Republicans in that body).

Trump's determination to build a wall traces back to one of his earliest campaign promises. During the inception of his successful presidential campaign in June 2015, Trump declared: "I will build a great wall ― and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me ― and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."

Of course, Mexico has not been willing to pay for Trump's proposed wall, and he has lacked the means to compel them to do so, leaving him with dwindling options for realizing his grand ambition. Ironically, Trump actually had an opportunity to get significantly more border wall funding through a bipartisan immigration reform agreement. But because right-wingers in his own party balked at having to make concessions to liberals on the issue, that deal fell through.

This hasn't stopped Trump's press team from spinning his wall-related plight as somehow positive for the president.

"I can’t get into the specifics of that at this point, 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," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters about the rumors of Trump's new border wall plan on Tuesday.

Trump's latest wall-funding scheme has met with derision from both the left and the right.

"First Mexico was supposed to pay for it, then U.S. taxpayers, and now our men and women in uniform? This would be a blatant misuse of military funds and tied up in court for years. Secretary Mattis ought not bother and instead use the money to help our troops, rather than advance the president’s political fantasies," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., declared in a statement.

Schumer's views were echoed in New York Magazine by columnist Jonathan Chait:

One might think that the first time he floated this notion, somebody would have explained what Congress is and why his plan cannot happen. But when Trump is busy firing everybody who treats him like a moron, maybe his aides are skittish about explaining the, uh, constitutional impediments to his concept.

The conservative/libertarian website The Federalist also featured a piece by columnist John Daniel Davidson that criticized the wall, arguing that the mere fact Trump was trying to pay for it through the military underscored how absurd the project had been in the first place.

There are plenty of reasons this almost certainly won’t happen, mostly because repurposing Pentagon funds for a wall would require an act of Congress, and lawmakers obviously aren’t interested right now. But Trump’s desire to pull the military into his border wall plan shows just how abnormal the scheme is. It also reveals how limited the effects of an actual border wall would be.

One matter that is also clear: The border wall matters far less to voters than it does to Trump himself. A poll from earlier this month found that 38 percent of voters oppose building a border wall, compared to 60 percent who support it. That figure includes 10 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of independents, although 77 percent of Republicans do want Trump to build his vaunted wall.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Border Wall Donald Trump Military Us-mexico Border Wall