President Donald Trump could potentially get $21 billion for the border wall by declaring a national emergency at the expense of canceling or leaving half-built a range of Defense Department projects, congressional aides said Thursday.
About $10 billion would be available to the president from this year's budget, along with another $11 billion in funding from previous budgets that has not been obligated, the aides said.
The money would come from "unobligated funds" in the DoD's military construction budget and from separate projects for the Army Corps of Engineers, the aides said, but there was confusion on which route Trump might take and his legal basis for doing it.
"He could take the money from either or both of those authorities [DoD or Army Corps of Engineers], and we don't know what the plan is," said one aide, who spoke to defense reporters on condition of anonymity.
Funds taken from military accounts would have to be justified as being used in support of armed forces missions, the aide said.
"There are legitimate questions about whether building a fence along the border is in support of the armed forces. That will be worked out in court," the aide said.
Simply having the money available would not resolve potential roadblocks to building the wall on the local level, the aides said. For instance, building new wall sections in Texas would require going through private land, and landowners could be expected to file court challenges.
The process of taking money from the military construction budget would force the DoD to pick and choose among projects to be completed, the aides said.
One aide cited the example of a $1 billion medical center currently being built for troops and military families in Germany. About $300 million has already been spent and, if the rest of the money were to be used for the wall, "you have the prospect of having the hospital half-built," the aide said.
In December, Trump demanded $5.7 billion in border wall money as part of a deal to fund several government departments, but Congress offered only $1.6 billion. The result was the 35-day partial government shutdown, which ended with a continuing resolution. That CR is set to expire at midnight Friday.
Under the tentative agreement reached by Congress this week, funding for enhanced security on the border would be limited to $1.375 billion.
On the Senate floor Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Trump "has indicated he is prepared to sign the bill. He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time."
"I've indicated to him that I'm going to support the national emergency declaration," McConnell said. "So, for all of my colleagues, the president will sign the bill. We will be voting on it shortly."
On Twitter, Trump said Thursday afternoon that he was "reviewing the funding bill with my team," but gave no indication of which way he was leaning on methods to fund the wall.
Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees from both sides of the aisle have already expressed opposition to taking money from the military for wall construction, but it was not immediately clear whether they could block or delay the move.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.