WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested on Tuesday that military personnel would finish building sections of his proposed security wall along the U.S. southern border if congressional Democrats refuse to provide funding for the project, a move that would appear to violate a series of government rules.
“If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall,” Trump wrote in an early morning series of tweets expressing frustration over the budget fight. “They know how important it is!”
Democrats have repeatedly blamed Trump for unnecessarily injecting the military into the national immigration debate, most recently by mobilizing thousands of active-duty troops to provide assistance to federal officials conducting border security missions there.
In his social media posts, Trump praised that effort, saying “Border Patrol and our Military have done a FANTASTIC job of securing our Southern Border” and asserting that temporary barbed-wire fences and other barriers set up by the troops have helped discourage illegal border crossings.
The Trump administration’s request for the Pentagon to house migrants detained at the U.S. southern border and even help prosecute them is prompting concern about strains to the military.
Trump is scheduled to meet with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday afternoon to talk about a possible compromise on funding for the border wall issue, the main sticking point of a multi-agency appropriations fight which could trigger a partial government shutdown next week.
Lawmakers have already finalized full-year funding for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, so they would remain unaffected if a new budget deal is not reached by the Dec. 21 deadline. But the Departments of State and Homeland Security could see furloughs and program cancellations if a deal isn’t reached.
Trump wants at least $5 billion in the appropriations measure to pay for the border wall project, but Democrats are backing a plan with about $1.6 billion for related projects.
Using military funds for non-military projects like the security wall would appear to violate federal and congressional rules governing defense appropriations. Trump on several occasions has suggested that he can use the military as a substitute for his wall proposal, which critics have also charged as improper use of the armed forces.
Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis approved an extension of the military border mission through Jan. 31, although it remains unclear how many troops will remain in southern states for that long.