Here’s what Trump’s national emergency declaration means for the military

It's anticipated that he will raid funds allocated by Congress for military construction and, of all things, counter-drug operations at the border.

President Donald Trump speaks on border security during a Rose Garden event at the White House February 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
President Donald Trump speaks on border security during a Rose Garden event at the White House February 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

President Donald Trump on Friday morning announced that he will sign a national state of emergency to build the border wall Congress refused to fund.

Citing the “monstrous caravans” of Central American migrants hoping to enter the United States and “tremendous” amounts of smuggled drugs as concerns, he said, “If we had a wall, we wouldn’t need the military, because we have a wall.”

The president agreed to sign the deal offered by Congress, which approved $1.375 billion for border security, subject to certain restrictions. Now, Trump wants an additional $6.5 billion for the wall. That comes out to a total of close to $8 billion, which is well over the $5.7 billion he was initially asking for.

Funding for this wall will likely come from money Congress has allocated for the Department of Defense for construction, and, ironically, drug interdiction operations.


“Both of those [military construction and counter-drug operations] seem like places where it’s more thought-out than the case is for this wall,” said Mandy Smithberger, the director of Project on Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information.

She told ThinkProgress that while she believes that the Pentagon’s budget can be trimmed in places, it shouldn’t be at the expense of national security and certainly not for a border wall.

It is anticipated that $3.5 billion will come from the military construction budget, which is intended to improve military bases, many of which are in dire need of overhaul. North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune alone sustained an estimated $3.6 billion in damages during Hurricane Florence, which struck in September 2018.

Additionally, a report released on Wednesday by the Military Advisory Family Network indicated that “Military families are living in dangerous situations with reports of the existence of black mold, lead paint, faulty wiring, poor water quality, pesticides, and a wide variety of vermin, insects, and other animals (e.g., bats, skunks, and squirrels) in their homes.”


Many families have reported illnesses associated with their living conditions. The issues with housing aren’t necessarily a function of budget shortage — privatizing maintenance has been a major problem — but will certainly cost money to address.

Trump is expected to tap an additional $2.5 billion from DOD’s drug interdiction operations, targeting drugs coming into the United States at official ports of entry.

According to Customs and Border Protection, the bulk of the drugs seized at the southern border were trying to be smuggled at official borders or ports of entry — something a border wall would not address.

But Trump claimed on Friday that this is a lie spread by Democrats. “It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s just a lie. It’s all all a lie,” he said.

Smithberger said that cutting this part of DOD’s budget “will significantly undermine the capacity of the department to address that mission.”

Smithberger said that while it’s unclear how the emergency declaration will affect Pentagon spending in the coming year, what’s clear is that this is money that both the Department of Defense and Congress originally agreed was needed and allocated accordingly.


“The very perverse thing about using this kind of authority is that you don’t want to incentivize federal agencies to have a use-it-or-lose it mentality with their money, which is already present and is already a problem,” she said.

When asked by a reporter on Friday if spending $8 billion on a wall might “take away from other technology, other renovations, construction that is desperately needed in our military,” Trump responded, “We have certain funds being used at the discretion of generals, at the discretion of the military. Some of them haven’t been allocated yet. And some of the generals think this is more important. I was speaking to a couple of them, they think it is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said what were you going to use it for, and I won’t go into details, but didn’t sound too important to me.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, disagrees. In a statement on Thursday, he urged the president “not to divert significant Department of Defense funding for border security. Doing so would have detrimental consequences for our troops as military infrastructure was one of the accounts most deprived during the Obama-era defense cuts.”

Smithberger too is worried about where these funds were coming from.

“These are not the right accounts to be looking for the savings,” she said, adding,
“the places to look should not be on what impacts both the safety of Americans, when we’re talking about drug interdiction, and it should not be on facilities that our military needs for training.”