The Trump administration is discussing diverting more money from the Pentagon budget to constructing the border wall, a US official familiar with funding of the project told CNN.
The move comes after the administration has already moved $3.6 billion of military construction funds towards President Donald Trump’s trademark project following his failed attempts to secure congressional funding. Not only will the Pentagon back the project, the Interior Department announced Wednesday that it will soon transfer 560 acres along the US-Mexico border to the Army to allow for border wall construction.
Officials are also discussing how to replenish that $3.6 billion, the source told CNN. To help fund the project, the administration wants $5 billion for Customs and Border Protection in the Homeland Security budget – for the wall, but also for processing centers.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday the administration could divert $18.4 billion more in funding for nearly 500 miles of new barrier by the 2020 election. The paper cited planning documents indicating that the government would need to either buy or claim by eminent domain almost 200 miles of land for the project.
As Trump has been pressuring aides for progress on the wall, his administration has been plotting a strategy for funding it through the next fiscal year, according to US officials familiar with the situation.
Biweekly meetings held at the White House, chaired by Trump himself and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, will focus on the border wall, including developing a strategy for securing funds to construct the southern barrier, which Trump hopes to tout in his reelection campaign.
A meeting last week, led by Kushner, focused on how to sustain funding for the wall heading into the next fiscal year, along with an update on wall construction progress so far.
The meetings reflect fresh urgency to make progress on the wall. Any more diversions of Pentagon funds to wall construction will certainly create stringent opposition from Democrats.
Despite touting new construction, the majority of work on the wall so far has been replacing existing barriers, and not installing new wall where it didn’t exist before.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorized diverting the initial $3.6 billion in military construction funds for 11 wall projects on the southern border with Mexico earlier this month. The move was slammed by Congress when it was first announced and only recently completed a Pentagon legal review.
Defense Department officials said that 127 military construction projects are being put on hold in order to use the $3.6 billion to fund building 175 miles of southern border wall. Construction is expected to begin in about 135 days in areas where the federal government already owns the land along the border, including the Department of Defense’s Barry M. Goldwater test range in Arizona, according to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Comptroller Elaine McCusker.
CNN’s Greg Wallace, Paul LeBlanc, Ryan Browne, Priscilla Alvarez and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.