President Donald Trump has a well-established tendency to see red—or blue—in responding to natural disasters. He immediately pledged aid to deep-red Alabama and Texas when they were hit by hurricanes and tornadoes, but dragged his heels and picked fights with California and Puerto Rico when natural disasters struck.
That tendency of playing partisan favorites through disaster relief money has congressional Democrats worried he’ll continue the trend when it comes to military funding, as lawmakers await the list of projects that will be raided to pay for the president’s wall on the southern border.
On Thursday, the Senate is expected to advance a resolution that would block the national emergency declaration Trump issued in February, denying him access to special sources of funding for his wall following congressional pushback.
At least four Republican senators will join Democrats in rebuking the president, citing constitutional norms as well as concerns over paying for the wall with funds meant for the military.
But it’s unlikely the GOP backlash will be strong enough to overrule Trump’s expected veto of the resolution. The declaration could still get blocked in federal court—20 states have filed a lawsuit challenging it—but in the meantime Trump will face pressure to specify which military projects he would sacrifice in order to build the wall.
Lawmakers have currently identified over 400 projects, spread throughout 43 states, D.C., and overseas territories, that are set to receive funding from the pot of money the president is seeking to access.
The administration intends to siphon billions of dollars out of this fund which totals some $24 billion, to pay for the wall. The Pentagon has not yet specified which projects in this group are safe and which are at risk, and the uncertainty is leaving Democratic lawmakers to entertain the possibility that Trump will privilege states that support him politically.
Asked if he believed the president would raid military funding for blue states to build the wall, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), was unequivocal. “Of course he would... This is what we’ve been told to look for,” he said, citing “our own sources.”
Garamendi, whose district is home to the busiest Air Force base in the country, chairs the House Armed Services subpanel on military readiness, which oversees logistics and management of bases.
Last year, the president told California that it needed to “get smart” on managing its forests after wildfires devastated the state—and then threatened to cut disaster relief funds. That memory still rankles for Garamendi, who pointed out that remaining wildfire relief money is at risk of being diverted to the wall. “Everybody’s nervous in California,” he said. Additionally, nearly $1.4 billion in military construction money is on the chopping block for the Golden State.
Democratic senators in states with large military footprints didn’t put it past Trump to target blue states given his past behavior, they told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all,” said Sen. Michael Bennett of Colorado, who added there’s a high level of interest in Colorado in seeing the final list of affected projects.
Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico said that the fact there remain no specifics about which projects will be affected means it’s a “fair question” whether states might be targeted on a political basis.
The White House did not return a request for comment. However, the president and his team have apparently made assurances to at least one vulnerable Republican Senator—Arizona’s Martha McSally— that her state would not have construction projects raided in order to siphon off funds for a border wall.
Some Democrats are simply hoping that cooler heads at the Pentagon prevail over Trump’s whims. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said he’s received assurances from officials there that political factors will not influence which projects are affected by this—or if they are at all.
“The DoD maintains its credibility by avoiding politics, and they have an opportunity to obey the statute and do this right,” Schatz told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “I take them at their word. I don’t doubt there’s the possibility of political pressure.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are closely protective of Pentagon spending in their states, which is seen as a driver of economic activity and growth. A number of Republicans are also concerned about constituents being affected by delays in military projects, which range from $68 million for a school for service members’ children at an Army base in Kentucky to $383 million for improvements to National Security Agency headquarters in Maryland.
The prospect that the administration might approach the process of who wins and who loses “unwisely,” said Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, is “very, very high.”