California was once in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration Friday, with indications that the administration might divert money from disaster protection projects to more fencing along the border with Mexico.
That pot of money didn’t appear to be on tap as the president made his declaration Friday, looking instead toward funds for military construction and illegal drug seizure. But California still features prominently in the border fight, with Democratic state representatives in Congress leading the opposition.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, joined Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, in a statement condemning the move Friday as a threat to the constitution’s separation of powers.
“This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed president, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process,” Pelosi and Schumer said.
California’s Democratic lawmakers already are promising a court fight.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a joint statement late Thursday that “if the president tries to use a made-up emergency to pay for his border wall then California will see him in court.”
But House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said he supports the president’s move, and Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, whose district includes the areas where both the Camp and Carr fires burned in 2018, agrees.
“We face a humanitarian and national security crisis at the border that must be addressed and the president’s declaration is merely a statement of fact,” McCarthy said in a Thursday statement anticipating the move. “With the declaration and other legal authorities, the President has access to important tools to take the steps necessary to secure the border.”
LaMalfa said in a press release, “I support the President’s decision today to use the powers of the Executive to secure our southern border. I would have preferred to accomplish this legislatively, but the intractability of Democrat leadership to adequately address this issue has made that impossible.”
The emergency declaration comes amid a fight over $5.7 billion in funding for improved and extended fencing and barriers along the border with Mexico that Trump has sought over objections from congressional Democrats. The fight led to a record 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government with Trump refusing to approve a funding package without it.
An agreement to fund the government through Friday led to compromise legislation the president said he would sign that included $1.375 billion to fund 55 miles of border fencing in Texas, short of the 234 miles of steel walls Trump had sought. Trump said he would approve the funding deal but also declare an emergency to redirect more funding for border fencing to make good on a campaign promise of a southern border “wall.”
Most of the additional fencing is sought for the Rio Grande valley in Texas, where the river marks the state’s border with Mexico. California, Arizona and New Mexico already have extensive fencing along most of their southern border.
Where will the rest of that $5.7 billion for more fencing come from now?
The Trump administration at one point was eyeing a pot of $13.9 billion in Army Corps of Engineers money for flood control and disaster relief efforts in several areas, including California, Texas, Florida, West Virginia, Louisiana and Puerto Rico, according to Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield.
He said the administration was particularly interested in projects funded but not yet built in California and Puerto Rico — which Garamendi noted are not strongholds for the president’s Republican party. Those included $2.47 billion for flood control projects along the San Francisco Bay’s shoreline in San Jose, the American and Yuba rivers near Sacramento, Lake Isabella in Kern County and the Santa Ana River in Southern California.
That didn’t seem to worry LaMalfa, reached by phone Saturday.
“We’ve made it clear that it can’t touch the disaster funds. We’re just not pulling from there. It’s mostly going to come from I think military construction type things that are not a front-burner issue,” LaMalfa said. “As we continue to battle through what it’s going to take to get people recovered from the Camp Fire in Paradise and the Carr Fire in Redding it doesn’t touch or hurt any of those funds.”
And on Tuesday, Garamendi introduced a bill with support from several other Democratic lawmakers that would prevent the president from diverting disaster-recovery funds from Army Corps civil works projects to bolster border fencing.
But late this week as the president signaled he would make good on his threat to declare an emergency, administration officials pointed toward other funding sources. Trump’s Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters Thursday that the White House will not use money that had been designated as disaster assistance for Puerto Rico or Texas, saying other accounts are available.
According to the Washington Post, Trump is eyeing $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction program and about $600 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund. He also wants to use $3.6 billion in military construction funds to help build his new border barriers. White House officials believe only a military construction account requires a national emergency designation, according to the post.
The compromise funding bill passed both houses of Congress overwhelmingly on Thursday. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA — like several of her fellow candidates for president — was one of only five Democrats in the Senate who voted against the agreement.
“This is ridiculous,” Harris told reporters at the Capitol. “I have opposed every effort to build the wall because the American people should not have to pay for the president’s vanity project. We don’t need it.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein voted in favor of the deal, as did all of the Bay Area’s members of the House.
“We should not be governing by shutdowns,” said Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord. “It is not a perfect deal, but it is a bipartisan agreement between both chambers of Congress.”
Enterprise-Record Staff Writer Kayla Fitzgerald, Bay Area News Group Staff Writer Casey Tolan and the Washington Post contributed to this report.