The battle over the presence of active-duty troops on the border and the appropriation of Defense Department funds to build a wall is moving to Capitol Hill this week.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that taking money out of the DoD's military construction budget for the wall "would be a big problem." He also questioned the necessity for having active-duty troops on the border.
The troop presence and funding for the wall are the main topics for a HASC hearing scheduled for Tuesday on the "Defense Department's Support for the Southern Border." As of Monday morning, the committee had yet to announce a witness list, but Pentagon officials are expected to testify.
In a C-Span "Newsmakers" segment aired Sunday, Smith questioned whether President Donald Trump has the authority to declare a national emergency to take funding out of military construction, or separate funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, to extend the existing wall on the border.
In signing a bill last Friday to end the partial government shutdown, Trump said he might allow the government to shut down again in three weeks or declare a national emergency to allow for funding from the military budget if Congress failed to come up with $5.7 billion for the wall.
"I don't think there is an emergency," Smith said.
Trump could declare one, but "there would immediately be a lawsuit," Smith said, adding that "taking billions out of the Pentagon's military construction budget would be a big problem."
Another possible source of money for the wall could come from the budget of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is not officially part of the DoD budget and is allocated mostly for flood control projects, Smith said. But there could be political opposition to that method from Senate and House members whose areas would be affected.
"It's money primarily for flood control projects," Smith said, "and again, taking billions of dollars away from that would be very problematic."
He also questioned the purpose of having active-duty troops back up Customs and Border Protection at the border. The presence of about 2,000 active-duty troops has been extended until September.
"These active troops -- what are they doing at the border? Why is it necessary to have active-duty troops at the border? I don't think it's been explained," Smith said.
In a tweet Sunday night, Trump said that his other accomplishments during two years in office gave proof that his effort to build the wall also would be successful.
"After all that I have done for the Military, our great Veterans, Judges (99), Justices (2), Tax & Regulation Cuts, the Economy, Energy, Trade & MUCH MORE, does anybody really think I won't build the WALL? Done more in first two years than any President," Trump said. "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
On the "Fox News Sunday" program, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said,, "At the end of the day, the president is going to secure the border, one way or another."
Add smith wall story after last graf ending -- way or another."
The committee later posted that John Rood, the Pentagon's under secretary for policy, and Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, operations director for the Joint Staff, will be testifying. They could be expected to address the border deployments, as well as military efforts to enhance security and the potential costs.
The last estimate given by the DoD to Congress in late November was that the 5,900 active-duty troops who began deploying to the border Oct. 31 had cost $72 million, while the deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard troops since April 2018 had cost about $138 million.
The number of active-duty troops now on the border has been reduced to 2,100, Pentagon spokesmen said Monday, but their deployment has been extended to September. About 2,350 National Guard troops remain on the border, the spokesmen said.
Using military funding for the border wall has also drawn initial opposition from some Republicans. On NBC's "Meet the Press" program Sunday, when asked about the possibility of Trump declaring a national emergency, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said, "I hope he doesn't do it."
He added, "I don't think it's leverage" in the efforts to reach a compromise on government funding and border security before a Feb. 15 deadline.
An emergency declaration would be tied up in the courts indefinitely, Rubio said. "It doesn't provide certainty, and you could very well wind up in sort of a theatric victory at the front end and then not getting it done."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.