A day before U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn voted against a measure to block President Donald Trump's move to divert funds from military projects to pay for border-wall construction, the Colorado Springs Republican sent a letter to the Pentagon, raising concerns about redirecting military funds.
Lamborn was among the 182 Republicans who voted Tuesday against U.S. House Joint Resolution 46. That resolution was an attempt to terminate the national emergency declared by Trump on Feb. 15. The measure passed the House by a 245-182 vote, with a handful of Republicans joining Democrats in favor, and moves on the GOP-led Senate.
"President Trump is well within his constitutional right to declare a national emergency at the southern border," Lamborn said in a statement after the vote. " ... The crisis at our border requires executive action."
That statement made no mention of the diversion of funds from military projects.
But on Monday, Lamborn and U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-California, wrote a letter to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to "express our concern about President Trump's intent to use Department of Defense funds to construct a wall along the southern border."
Garamendi is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's readiness subcommittee and Lamborn is its ranking Republican member.
"[W]e fear that reprogramming funding intended for military construction projects and counterdrug activities will come at the expense of troop readiness and Department-wide efforts to address the military's aging infrastructure," said the letter, first reported by NBC Tuesday.
It's not the first time Lamborn has raised such concerns.
Shortly after Trump declared the border emergency on Feb. 15, the congressman said that while he supports border security, he opposes using Pentagon cash to pay for the wall.
"I strongly encourage the president not to go through with diverting funds from military construction accounts to border security," Lamborn said in an email to the Gazette that day. "Our defense infrastructure was one of the areas hit hardest by the Obama-era defense cuts, and pulling from those accounts will have serious consequences for our military readiness."
Lamborn's office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday on the seeming contradiction between his vote on the House resolution Tuesday and his views on diverting military funds.
Trump, during the 2016 election campaign, promised Mexico would pay for the wall, but the Mexican government never agreed to it. The president then tried to persuade Congress to provide that funding, which never happened, and that led him to refuse to sign a funding bill that shut down the government for a record 35 days.
In January, Congress, with the House under Democratic control, passed a spending bill that included $1.375 billion for border security, including improving existing fencing. But nothing for a wall.
The Trump administration asserts that the emergency declaration allows him to tap into more than $6 billion in military funding that he can redirect to the wall, so long as the emergency requires the use of the armed forces.
However, in declaring the national emergency in a press conference on Feb. 15, Trump undercut the rationale for it, in the view of critics, by stating, "I didn't need to do this," adding that he declared an emergency to make the wall happen sooner.
Sixteen states, including Colorado, to sue to block the action, claiming in part that diverting military funds from construction projects would hurt their economies.
In their letter, Lamborn and Garamendi pointed out that the Defense Department has $23 billion in unobligated appropriations currently in its military construction account.
"These funds were requested by the Department of Defense, authorized and appropriated with bipartisan support by Congress, and signed into law by the President for specific military construction projects," such as for new weapon systems, to replace aging facilities, and improve "the readiness and quality of life of our troops and their families as originally intended," the letter said.
In addition, the letter noted, about $1 billion has been appropriated to the department's drug interdiction and counter-drug activities account for fiscal year 2019.
The Defense Department will have to "reprogram funds from other accounts and priorities to reach the $2.5 billion sought by the President," the Lamborn-Garamendi letter said. "It remains unclear where these remaining funds will come from, and we have serious concerns about the impact any reprogramming may have on readiness."
The letter asks for answers from the Pentagon by March 15 on which military projects will be deferred and the justification for using these funds for the wall, explaining in detail how fencing or a border wall is necessary to support the armed forces. The letter also seeks justification for using funds for the wall intended to combat drug smuggling.
Lamborn's district includes five military installations.
The Gazette's Tom Roeder contributed.