Nearly $150M in Az military projects could be cut for Trump's border emergency
$15M project at D-M, $30M in construction at Ft. Huachuca could see funds diverted
Despite "assurances" touted by U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, a $30-million construction project at Ft. Huachuca and a $15-million facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base are potentially on the chopping block in order to fund a border wall under President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration.
Nearly $150 million in planned military construction across Arizona could see funds diverted to border-wall projects. Those planned projects here are among $12.9 billion in Pentagon construction that could be cut or delayed under the Trump administration's announcement that it will rapidly push forward with a border barrier. The Defense Department said it could get $3.6 billion in "emergency funding" for Trump's wall by canceling or delaying some of the projects on a list released Monday.
The Air Force had planned to spend $15 million on an "aerospace ground equipment maintenance facility" at D-M in Tucson, with the project slated for this September.
The funds for a $30-million "ground transport equipment building" at the U.S. Army base in Southern Arizona were appropriated in 2018, but have not yet been spent. That project may be the most likely target in the state. The Pentagon said it does not plan to use money for military housing, and doesn't plan to cut projects set to be awarded this fiscal year, which takes five of the six Arizona projects off the table – but leaves Ft. Huachuca.
The projects in Tucson and at the Sierra Vista base were included on a 21-page list of military construction projects that could have funds diverted to Trump's border barrier. The Defense Department provided the fact sheet to Congress; it was released Monday by the office of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
Also on the list are two June 2019 projects at Luke AFB near Phoenix: a $23-million maintenance facility for the F-35 aircraft, and a $17-million "squad ops" construction project on the base.
Included on the list as well are a $14.8-million project for storing the Navy's Trident II missile motors at Camp Navajo, near Flagstaff (appropriated for Fiscal Year 2019), and a $48.3-million test squadron maintenance hanger at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma (funded in 2017 but with construction planned for this month).
"Decisions have not yet been made concerning which border barrier projects will be funded through" the emergency declaration by Trump, the Pentagon said Monday in releasing the list to senators. The DOD also said that "no military housing, barracks, or dormitory projects will be impacted."
The administration has indicated it plans to replace funds expended under Trump's emergency powers by with a substantial increase to the defense budget in 2020. Trump wants to boost the DOD budget to $750 billion while making significant cuts to domestic spending.
Members of the state's congressional delegation vowed to protect Ft. Huachuca, but it's unclear how effective they may be. Congress voted to block Trump's emergency declaration last week, but the president vetoed that move, and the 59-41 vote in the Senate does not signal any ability to override that veto with the required two-third majority.
McSally, a Republican, voted against the resolution to block Trump's declaration. U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, voted in favor of it. A dozen GOP senators joined with the Democrats in the attempting to halt Trump's assumption of emergency powers to redirect military spending.
McSally said last week that she would vote against the measure because she had received "assurances" from the Pentagon that four military projects that were covered by Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations in Arizona would not be affected.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday, she asked acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan about those projects.
"We did have a conversation, and there are four projects in Arizona that are appropriated in FY '19, and you broadly said those FY '19 projects across all the country will not be impacted by this, just to be clear, correct, Mr. Secretary?" she asked.
"That is correct," the DOD head said.
McSally followed that with a statement to the press Thursday afternoon: "I have spoken with the acting secretary of defense, the president and vice president to underscore that we must ensure military readiness while also funding border security. As a result, no Arizona military construction projects from Fiscal Year 2019 will be impacted. "
"Arizonans know there is a humanitarian and security crisis at the border – drugs are killing and harming loved ones in communities everywhere," the Republican senator said.
McSally's office declined Monday to comment on most of the Arizona projects included on the list, but her spokeswoman, Katie Waldman, said that "Ft. Huachuca has a long overdue project from Fiscal Year 2018 that we are actively working to keep off any chopping block and will fight tooth and nail to backfill if needed."
Sinema did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Pentagon list Monday afternoon.
Sinema explained her vote to block Trump by saying last week that she will "continue working to find bipartisan solutions in the U.S. Senate to secure our border and strengthen our military."
"It is Congress's constitutional duty to appropriate funds for border security," the newly elected Democratic senator said. "Several weeks ago, Congress increased Homeland Security funding by $1.7 billion for this year. While there is more work for Congress to do, the emergency declaration undermines critical military assets across our country and unnecessarily puts at risk resources for Arizona servicemembers and national security."
U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick's office didn't provide comment on the list Monday in response to a query from TucsonSentinel.com, but released a typographically muddled statement Tuesday.
Trump's "proposal is filled with destructive cuts," the Democratic congresswoman said. "No funds... should be diverted from Davis Monthan and Fort Huachuca instillations (sic) to pay for an ineffective border wall."
"I will do everything possible to fight President Trump's attempts to divert money from Southern Arizona military projects," Kirkpatrick said in the release.
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva didn't respond to a request for comment.
Lawmakers have been pressing for weeks to find out which military construction projects might be tapped to fund the wall, and Sen. Reed, D-Rhode Island, released the 21-page list Monday afternoon that he said the Pentagon had provided.
Calls to the Defense Department seeking comment on the document Tuesday were not returned. The document said that being included on the list did not necessarily mean a military construction project might be used to fund a wall. It also added that no military projects would have to be delayed or canceled if the department's increased fiscal 2020 budget "is enacted on time as requested."
All of the other Arizona projects are expected to be awarded in this fiscal year, making them less likely to be tapped. But the $30 million ground transport equipment building at Ft. Huachuca is not set to be awarded until May 2020.
Trump's veto on Friday is not a green light for the national emergency declaration that Trump said would let him shift billions of dollars that Congress has denied him for border wall construction.
Congress does not appear to have enough votes to override the veto. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the House would “once again act to protect our Constitution and our democracy from the President’s emergency declaration by holding a vote to override.”
Even if the override stands as expected, the emergency declaration faces several separate court challenges, including one from 16 states.
But Trump said Friday while “Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution … I have the duty to veto it.”
“Congress’ vote to deny the crisis on the southern border is a vote against reality,” Trump said. “It’s against reality. It is a tremendous national emergency.”
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday that the only emergency was of Trump’s making.
“Congress has refused to fund the wall multiple times; Mexico won’t pay for it; and a bipartisan majority in both chambers just voted to terminate his fake emergency,” Schumer said in a statement released by his office.
Trump declared a national emergency last month as he grudgingly signed a budget bill that allowed the government to reopen after a 35-day shutdown, the longest in history. That budget included $1.375 billion for border security, less than Congress had originally offered and well below Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion, a demand that sparked the shutdown in December.
Trump said the emergency would let him shift $6.6 billion, mostly from the Defense Department, to a border wall.
Critics seized on Trump’s remark at the announcement of an emergency that he “didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” Congress moved quickly to reject the declaration, with the House on Feb. 26 voting 245-182 and the Senate following suit Thursday.
Arizona’s House delegation split along party lines, with Democrats opposing the emergency and Republicans backing it. The state’s Senate delegation also split, with McSally voting to uphold the emergency. Monday, her staff said she was vowing to protect the scheduled project at the Sierra Vista base.
But critics noted that McSally joined most other Republicans in the House and Senate by refusing to vote against Trump’s declaration of an emergency after Congress denied him the funding he wanted for a border wall.
"Heck of a job @SenMcSallyAZ!" U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat who's mulling entering the Senate race against McSally, tweeted Tuesday. "Allowing this administration to light our Constitution on fire for a vanity project."
Reactions like that have Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, puzzled over the administration’s handling of the list, which he said "doesn’t seem to make any political sense."
"The president declared a national emergency, took all the political slack for doing that, but then didn’t have a set of actions that he wanted to take," Cancian said.
"You don't want to increase the number of congressmen who are nervous about this," he said. "And this list does that because it lists all possible projects … you would want to publish the list of actual cancellations. These are standard political calculations that the president has never paid attention to."
Cancian said he does not expect the diversion of funds to cause major problems for any of the projects. If the projects ended up being delayed for several years, "you’d have to say there would be some effect," he said. "But just some, it’s not immediate."
Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, agreed in an email that diverted funds are not likely have a big impact on military readiness.
“Most readiness funding that’s crucial year to year is for equipment repair and training,” his email said. “Funding for facilities is more like the frog in the boiling pot – you can defer action a long time before you know you have a problem.”
Cronkite News reporter Andrew Howard contributed to this report, and CN reporters Keerthi Vedantam and Luv Junious contributed background from Washington, D.C.