Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that he is against taking money out of the military construction budget to fund a wall on the southern border.
Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said he is less opposed to taking the money from separate funding for the Army Corps of Engineers but stressed that "these are two bad choices."
However, he said, President Donald Trump may have no recourse but to pick one of those options to provide adequate funding for a lengthy extension of the existing Mexico border wall.
"If it becomes necessary, I think [Trump] might do emergency," Inhofe said in a reference to the president's authority to declare a national emergency for wall funding. "If it happens to be that way, leave military construction alone."
Inhofe spoke at a Defense Writers' Group breakfast following action Tuesday night by House and Senate leaders to reach a tentative agreement aimed at avoiding a government shutdown Friday at midnight. The agreement includes funding far short of what Trump has requested for the wall.
The tentative agreement includes a reported $1.4 billion for a physical barrier on the southern border; Trump has stated he wants $5.7 billion for his planned border wall.
Inhofe made clear that he firmly backs Trump on the necessity of a wall.
"I don't know why that is even debatable. We need to have a physical barrier," he said.
At a rally in El Paso, Texas, on Monday night, Trump told cheering supporters that he had been briefed on the House-Senate conference committee's compromise on wall funding before taking the stage.
"Just so you know, we're building the wall anyway. We need the wall, and it has to be built, and we want to build it," he said.
Trump's initial demand for $5.7 billion to build about 215 miles of wall -- and House Democrats' refusal to budge on the demand -- led to the 35-day partial government shutdown that ended three weeks ago with a continuing resolution. The CR expires Friday.
Some of Trump's staunchest supporters ripped the conference committee agreement as a rejection of the president's repeated assertions that the wall is a national security issue.
On Twitter, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, wrote, "This conference agreement is hardly a serious attempt to secure our border or stop the flow of illegal immigration. It kicks the can down the road yet again, failing to address the critical priorities outlined by Border Patrol chiefs."
In remarks following a White House Cabinet meeting Tuesday, Trump said he is displeased with the deal on the wall that emerged from Congress.
"Am I happy? The answer is no, I'm not. I'm not happy," he said. But he stopped short of rejecting the accord, which could lead to another government shutdown.
Trump suggested that he might look to other ways to get funding for the wall. Eventually, "It's all going to happen, where we're going to build a beautiful, big, strong wall," he said.
To avoid a shutdown and still get his way on the wall would appear to leave the president with two options under the U.S. Code -- Sections 2808 and 2293.
Section 2808 would allow him to declare a national emergency to get funding for the wall by dipping into the military construction budget. Under Section 2293, he could possibly issue executive orders to tap into Army Corps of Engineers funding for hurricane reconstruction and flood control.
Either option would immediately be challenged in the courts to tie up the funding, according to Reps. Adam Smith, D-Washington, and Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
While both options "provide the president with a possible technical path out of the current political impasse, neither represents a smart long-term solution to his desire for wall money," according to American Enterprise Institute analysts Mackenzie Eaglen and Rick Berger.
In a recent paper and op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, they said that a declaration of a national emergency could target up to $23 billion in funds that Congress has allocated for specific projects but has not yet been spent by the Pentagon.
The projects could include new housing for military families in South Korea and Germany; a training range in Guam; and airfields, staging areas and training ranges in Europe meant to aid the U.S. and allies in deterring Russia.
Projects in the U.S. that could be hit included a $60 million aircraft maintenance hangar at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina; a $105 million command-and-control facility at Fort Shafter, Hawaii; and a $32 million vehicle maintenance shop at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, according to Stars and Stripes.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-New York, complained in a statement last week that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which is in his district, could lose up to $252 million in construction money if Trump declares a national emergency.
In their paper, Eaglen and Berger wrote, "Using military money to solve an immigration problem is politically foolish, won't work, and would hurt those in uniform."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.