The Trump administration is backing off its plan to use disaster relief funding to build a Mexican border wall due to pushback from members of both parties in Congress.
Officials in the White House told news outlets on Thursday that President Trump is considering the use of billions of dollars of Army Corps of Engineers funding to build his unpopular border wall, which has been deemed to be unnecessary and ineffective.
The Corps of Engineers funding was originally allocated by Congress for states and territories suffering from storm or wildfire damage but has not yet been spent. The affected areas are Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, and California.
Trump came up with the idea as a way for him to avoid the need to obtain the approval of Congress in order to build his border wall.
On Friday, after additional pushback and complaints from conservatives in Congress — as well as the Wall Street Journal — Trump said he’s “not looking” to declare a national emergency for the border wall right now.
Trump’s allies in Congress had denied that he is planning to divert disaster funding for the wall.
“I’ve spoken directly with the White House,” Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a tweet.
Trump, he wrote, “Fully supports Corps funding to help Harvey communities rebuild/prevent future flooding.”
Brady is referring to 2017’s Hurricane Harvey in Houston, which inflicted $125 billion in damage, primarily from flooding. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also said Friday he opposes “any reprogramming of Harvey disaster funds.”
Basically what happened is that Trump and his advisers backtracked on the idea of diverting disaster funding after outcries from Republicans in the affected states.
For Trump to diverting disaster funding would mean real harm to many communities that are still recovering from storms and wildfires. It would also set an undesirable precedent for presidential use of money appropriated by Congress. It might also be unconstitutional, and would be subjected to legal challenges.
“This is weaponizing disaster assistance funding,” Craig Fugate, the former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said. “It’s using it for purposes to extract concessions or force issues that have nothing to do with a disaster.”
On Friday several state governors criticized Trump’s planned move, saying it would make their states more vulnerable.
For example, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a conservative and Trump supporter, said he is against using hurricane funding for a Mexican border wall. Florida is still recovering from several hurricanes in the past few years, including Hurricane Michael, which hit the state in October and caused at least 60 deaths.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, still suffering from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Maria in 2017, said:
“No wall should be funded on the pain and suffering of U.S. citizens who have endured tragedy and loss through a natural disaster.”