Democrats protest $200M in additional border wall transfers

A worker clears land in preparation border wall construction Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, south of Donna, Texas. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has quietly transferred more than $200 million from Pentagon counterdrug efforts toward building his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, drawing protests from Democrats who say he is abusing his powers.

The move would shift $129 million to wall construction from anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan — the source of perhaps 90 percent of the world's heroin — along with $90 million freed up by passage of a stopgap funding bill, top Democrats said in a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

The Defense Department "was faced with a simple choice: either additional funds be used for their intended purpose, to accelerate our military's efforts to combat heroin production in Afghanistan; or divert these funds to pay for cost increases of a border wall project that does not have the support of the American people," the Democrats wrote.

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Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Chuck Schumer of New York and Patrick Leahy of Vermont took the lead, noting that the heroin trade is a major funding source for the Taliban and urging the Pentagon to "redouble its efforts to starve the Taliban of a vital funding source and reduce the scourge of heroin abuse in this country and abroad."

Trump has shifted more than $6 billion from Pentagon accounts to pay for border fence construction, considerably more than lawmakers have provided through annual appropriations bills.

Wall funding has been a major source of conflict between Capitol Hill Democrats and Trump as they negotiate agency funding bills each year. For instance, Trump was forced to settle for just $1.4 billion in wall funding in talks this winter. He issued a controversial declaration of a national emergency shortly afterward that allowed him to shift almost three times as much money from military construction accounts to wall building.

A fight over the wall issue is tying up efforts to begin serious negotiations on wrapping up $1.4 trillion worth of agency appropriations by Thanksgiving.

Separately, the Senate is expected to vote Thursday to sustain Trump's veto Tuesday of legislation to reject his emergency declaration.