Trump administration eyes catastrophe cash to fund border wall

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is contemplating utilizing billions in unspent catastrophe reduction funds earmarked for areas together with hurricane-pounded Puerto Rico and Texas and greater than a dozen different states to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall as he weighs signing a nationwide emergency declaration to get it constructed with out Congress.

The White Home has directed the Military Corps of Engineers to comb via its funds, together with $13.9 billion in emergency funds that Congress earmarked final 12 months, to see what cash may very well be diverted to the wall as a part of a declaration. That’s in response to a congressional aide and administration official aware of the matter who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to talk publicly.

It’s the newest signal that the administration is laying the groundwork for a attainable emergency order as negotiations between Trump and congressional Democrats to reopen the partially shuttered authorities have floor to a halt. Trump is demanding billions for his wall that Democrats gained’t give him. Within the meantime, a whole lot of hundreds of federal employees are set to overlook paychecks Friday.

Trump on Thursday gave his strongest public indication but that he’s leaning towards an emergency declaration as he traveled to the Texas border to proceed to press his case for the wall.

Trump instructed reporters as he left the White Home that he was nonetheless holding out hope for a deal, however that if it “doesn’t work out, in all probability I’ll do it. I might virtually say undoubtedly.”

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Todd Semonite, commanding common of the Military Corps of Engineers, was touring with Trump on Thursday. The Military Corps of Engineers directed inquiries to the Pentagon, which directed inquiries to Congress.

Almost $14 billion in emergency catastrophe reduction funds have been allotted however not but obligated via contracts for a wide range of tasks in states together with California, Florida and Texas and within the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico which were ravaged by current hurricanes, wildfires and different pure disasters, in response to the aide aware of the matter.

The cash funds a wide range of tasks, principally flood management to stop future disasters.

A second official with information of the proposal stated it could fund development of about 315 miles (500 kilometers) of border barrier. Proper now, boundaries blanket about one-third of the 1,954-mile (3,145-kilometer) border with Mexico.

Protection Division officers had already been combing information on greater than $10 billion in navy development tasks to find out how a lot of it could be accessible for emergency spending this 12 months.

Officers have estimated that roughly one-quarter to one-third of the cash, or $2.5 billion to $Three billion, may very well be accessible — lower than the $5.7 billion Trump is looking for. The bulk has additionally already been obligated — which means that it has been spent or a contract has been signed and there could be penalties for cancellation.

No matter the place the cash is discovered, an emergency declaration would draw speedy authorized problem from Democrats, who’ve accused Trump of attempting to fabricate a disaster on the southern border to justify his wall. Critics have stated the transfer could be an unconstitutional abuse of emergency powers. Trump stated Thursday that his legal professionals have instructed him he has the “absolute proper.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers raised speedy issues over shifting funds which have already been permitted by Congress for tasks in states throughout the nation.

Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, a prime Republican on the Appropriations Committee, stated he has been listening to from lawmakers in current days involved that Military Corps tasks of their states may very well be canceled or postponed.

“In the event that they drag the cash out of right here,” Simpson stated in an interview late Thursday, “quite a lot of members can have drawback with it.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the incoming chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, stated in an interview that rebuilding the catastrophe areas is “a approach larger precedence benefiting the American individuals than a wasteful wall.”

He stated the Military Corps works on dams, levees and different tasks throughout the nation and has an unlimited backlog of unfunded wants. “It might be an unbelievable disservice to the American individuals and the economic system” to divert the cash to the border wall, he stated.

And Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., stated in an announcement that it could be “past appalling for the president to take cash from locations like Puerto Rico which have suffered monumental catastrophes, costing hundreds of Americans’ lives, so as to pay for Donald Trump’s silly, offensive and hateful wall.”

“Siphoning funding from actual disasters to pay for a disaster manufactured by the president is wholly unacceptable and the American individuals gained’t fall for it,” she stated.

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Related Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

The Related Press contributed to this report.

We’re dedicated to reality and accuracy in all of our journalism. Learn our editorial requirements.

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