Stabenow: Block Trump from using Army Corps funding to build wall

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing

Washington — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is among a group of Senate Democrats that want to block President Donald Trump from potentially using U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds to build a Southern border wall after declaring a national emergency. 

But one of her Michigan Republican colleagues says money for a key Soo Locks project is protected.

Stabenow, D-Lansing, and others recently introduced legislation that would prohibit Trump from transferring money from Army Corps of Engineers projects or Department of Defense’s military construction accounts to build or acquire land for the border wall.

Trump has repeatedly said he'll use emergency powers if he doesn't get what he wants for border security.

The White House said Friday that Trump plans to supplement $1.375 billion allocated by Congress with $600 million in drug forfeiture funds, $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense's drug interdiction program and $3.6 billion from military construction accounts. 

A senior administration official said tapping Army Corps projects "is not on the table currently." 

Stabenow said she's concerned Trump would reallocate Army Corps funds from critical projects in Michigan such as the Soo Locks upgrade or other Army Corps projects critical to the Great Lakes, such as harbor dredging or plans to slow the progression of the invasive Asian carp. 

"We worked so hard to authorize the Soo Locks and to move forward on what is a critical national security, as well as economic security project," Stabenow said. 

"To have the president proceed without any legislative authority when we had strong bipartisan support to approve this is wrong."

The bill is called the Restrictions Against Illegitimate Declarations for Emergency Reappropriations, or RAIDER Act. 

But Rep. John Moolenaar, the Midland Republican who was a key player in getting the Soo Locks aid recognized by the Trump administration, said Stabenow is misinterpreting the situation.

“The funding included in the Army Corps work plan last year is protected and cannot be diverted to a new project," Moolenaar said in a Thursday night statement. "Through my work on the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to advocate for additional funding in the years ahead because a new lock at the Soo will benefit Michigan’s economy and support jobs.”

He even provided the text of the funding language: "the Secretary[of the Army for Civil Works] may not deviate from the new starts proposed in the work plan, once the plan has been submitted to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress.” 

The prospects of the Stabenow-backed bill are unclear in the Republican-controlled Senate, but both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns about the president potentially declaring an emergency at the border. 

Critics have questioned the legal authority for an emergency and say it could set a precedent that could be abused in the future whenever a president doesn't get what he or she wants from Congress. 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that Trump would sign the government funding bill that Congress is expected to send him this week but will also take "other executive action  — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border."

She said the White House would make an announcement later with more details on the declaration. 

Stabenow noted that only Congress has the responsibility to appropriate funds under the Constitution. 

"I don’t believe the president actually has the constitutional authority to do that, but I want to make sure he’s not able to hurt these really important projects and needs in Michigan."

Stabenow added that she expects there to be legal challenges to Trump's authority to call a national emergency "on something he’s taken many weeks and months to talk about without calling an emergency."

She and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, last month sought assurances from the Army Corps about whether officials were considering reallocating funding away from the Soo Locks or other Army Corps projects related to Michigan or the Great Lakes.

Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, has insisted funding for the Soo Locks upgrade is not at risk. 

Moolenaar, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, highlighted legislative language that prohibits the secretary of the Army for Civil Works from deviating from the list of new construction starts for 2019 after it’s been submitted to Congress. 

Trump in October signed the bill from Congress authorizing funding for the long-planned shipping lock in Sault Ste. Marie that links Lake Huron and Lake Superior. 

Plans call for construction of a second large lock — estimated at $1 billion — which lawmakers and shipping interests argue is needed in the case of an outage of the only other large lock at the complex.