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Virginia Republicans Back Trump's Plan to use Military Money for Border Wall

Rog Cogswell / Creative Commons

Virginia Democrats are not happy with President Trump's plan to divert money from Virginia military facilities in order to construct portions of his southern border wall. But Republicans support the effort. 

President Trump isn't giving up his push to build his long-promised wall along the southern border. It now involves taking close to four billion dollars Congress already allocated for Department of Defense projects in Virginia and elsewhere in order to build it.

U. S. Senate photo
Sen. Tim Kaine

Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine says that’s unacceptable, because the Pentagon has listed these sites as top priorities. And he says delaying some of them will hurt American service members. “When you have the DOD say these chemical warehouses, they have life, safety and health violations, inadequate ventilation, inadequate fire suppression. It’s chemicals for God’s sake. And they have asked us for money because of the seriousness of these problems," Kaine says. "It amazes me that a commander-in-chief who promised Mexico would pay for it, is now making troops and military families and our national security pay for it.”   

All told, Trump’s move to build the wall means Virginia military installations are set to lose some $77 million on four separate DOD projects spread across the Commonwealth. 

Kaine accuses Trump of declaring a national emergency at the border so he can skirt past the constraints Congress put on the funds, and he warns a future Democratic president will follow in his footsteps and divert congressional funds for progressive priorities. That’s why Kaine is urging Senate Republicans to oppose the effort when Democrats force another vote on Trump’s move in the coming weeks.  “The Senate would regret this, if they do it. Since all the military has said this is a non-military emergency – if it is an emergency, and many say it is – it is a non-military emergency. Gun violence, climate change, a public health thing, gives you an excuse to raid the Pentagon budget? That would be very troubling.”

Kaine says if Republicans merely rubber stamp what he calls a raid on the Pentagon’s budget, then they’re basically just unprincipled hypocrites. “If you don’t stand up for the troops, who are you going to stand up for? If you don’t stand up when projects in your own state is being cannibalized, what will you stand up for? If you don’t stand up when your own work, on Appropriations or Armed Services Committee is being cannibalized by a president moving stuff around, when will you stand up?”

Republicans see it differently. Southwest Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith says he hasn’t looked into the reports that the Navy’s Portsmouth maintenance facility or the Cyber facility at Langley will see close to forty million dollars lopped off of their top lines. “I haven’t looked at the projects," Griffith admits. "I just know that we’ve got to build the wall, and that it’s probably one of the biggest threats we have to the country.”

Rep. Rob Wittman

Republicans have fallen in line with Trump and now view his wall as a top national security concern. That’s why Eastern Virginia Republican Rob Wittman says Congress should merely pay for the wall and the military construction projects. “I think we can do both and I think we have to do both. That’s incumbent on Congress. The debate is, ‘Is this redirection of money something the executive branch should do?’ I think it’s a congressional obligation. I think it’s a legislative obligation," Wittman says. "But I understand if we don’t do it and the demand is there and the issue is there for the executive branch to address, I understand them taking the initiative to do that.”

Wittman argues that the president isn’t killing the Virginia military construction projects, merely delaying them – unless Congress just ponies up more funds.  “Listen, these projects are important. They’re not canceled. They’re potentially delayed if we don’t backfill the money.”

But Virginia senior Democratic Senator Mark Warner argues Trump is explicitly over ruling the will of Congress, and the Constitution gives Congress the power to control the nation’s spending.  “I think this is one more example of an administration that doesn’t have basic respect for rule of law. The president couldn’t get his way on his wall and then consequently is taking it out on the military,” Warner says.

The Senate will vote in the coming weeks on whether to overrule Trump’s latest effort to erect his wall, and it doesn’t look like they’ll have the votes to overrule his promised veto. Which means this issue won't go away ahead of the 2020 election.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.