A move by the administration of President Donald Trump to shift $3.6 billion away from military construction projects — including a new engineering complex at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point — to pay for a controversial wall at the Mexican border was roundly criticized Wednesday by Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
The two New York Democrats argued the funding shift could hurt the military's ability to respond to security threats. They insisted the Trump administration restore the funding approved by Congress.
"President Trump is now stealing money from West Point and 126 other military installation projects across the country in order to work around Congress and build this needless vanity project" at the southern border, Schumer said.
Schumer, who as Senate Minority Leader has emerged as a regular Trump critic, noted that the funding shift threatens the $160 million "state of the art" engineering school complex at West Point, a campus that sits in Cornwall in Orange County, on the banks of the Hudson River.
The statements from the senators came one day after Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Elaine McCusker, in a brief pressing, revealed the money being diverted from the construction projects will build new parts of the wall in Texas, California and Arizona while also replacing sections that have already been erected.
The decision to dip into the funding for the military projects is expected to lead to delays in completing them, but not their cancellation, according to McCusker.
Construction projects that have been approved for federal funding include work at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Niagara/Buffalo, said he learned that the $14 million training and fitness center at the reserve station has escaped the list of cuts "at this time."
Nevertheless, Higgins questioned the decision to reroute the military funding to the border wall project.
"While Niagara Falls has been spared from the chopping block for now, projects that support military operations and readiness across the country and the world will be impacted," Higgins said in a statement. "This is no way to support our troops.”
Higgins also took issue with the Trump administration's reliance on legislation known as the Military Construction Codification Act to divert the funds to the wall, saying that statute limits the reallocation of money to projects for the "use of the armed forces" and qualify as a "military construction project."
A spokeswoman for Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-North Country, representing a district that includes the U.S. Army's Fort Drum, did not respond to a question about the funding decisions favoring the wall project over military construction.
However, Stefanik, in February, was one of 13 House Republicans to join Democrats in voting to block federal emergency funding for the southern border wall. She contended then that taking money from the military was the "wrong decision." Stefanik also said at the time that she agreed with Trump's goal of making the border more secure.
Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, called the administration's plans to shelve the military projects in favor of the wall "profoundly misguided."
"The Trump administration is planning to go around Congress and move money away from our military for a border wall his own advisers have said will not make us more safe," Delgado said.
The pushback from congressional representatives against the plan to defund military projects is not unusual. Military spending helps to invigorate the economies in many congressional districts, and any decision to freeze planned funding from the federal Treasury tends to raise the hackles of those impacted.
Getting the wall erected at the southern border has been on Trump's agenda since soon after he began campaigning for the White House four years ago. He told his supporters then that Mexico would pay for the project, though Mexican leaders have not put up any money for the effort.
The Defense Department signaled in March that it would only shelve funding for projects with contract award dates after Sept. 30. The agency said then that it would not scratch funding for projects related to military housing.
Among the other projects that remain vulnerable to a funding freeze is a training facility at Camp Santiago, Puerto Rico.
Higgins noted that a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans voted to overturn Trump's emergency declaration to get the funds for the wall. But Trump vetoed the bills March 15.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org