Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney don’t want to see any transfer of funding from Hill Air Force Base projects toward construction of President Donald Trump’s wall on the southern U.S. border.
In a letter to acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, the two senators expressed “our significant concerns about potential plans to divert funds away from critical military construction projects in Utah as a result of the February 15, 2019, emergency declaration.”
They added that such a move would “undermine military capabilities that are essential to our national security strategy.”
Lee and Romney were among 12 Republican senators who voted to override the president’s emergency order to transfer money from other budget items to border wall construction. The two senators said the move amounted to a usurpation of congressional authority.
Trump later vetoed the congressional resolution blocking his order.
Nearly $130 million in funding approved for Hill Air Force Base is on a list of potential Pentagon projects that could be tapped for border wall construction under Trump’s emergency order. The target amount for wall construction is $3.6 billion of the $6.8 billion on the list.
“Nothing on that list is final. It was just an initial pool of possibilities and I literally have gone through hundreds of emails and calls on this exact topic. Every state and a couple of countries are saying, ‘Hey what about my project? How’s this going to impact [my state],'" Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Department of Defense spokesman, told The Salt Lake Tribune.
“The short answer is it was just an initial pool of potential projects,” Davis said. "The secretary [of defense] is going to be using input from the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and independent counsel to finalize the list. But we’re not quite sure when that list will be available.”
Rep. Ben McAdams, the only Democrat in Utah’s congressional delegation, tweeted out his support of the senators’ letter.
“As the only member of the Utah House delegation to oppose the President’s emergency declaration, I stand with @SenatorRomney and @SenMikeLee on this issue," he tweeted. “This is a case in point of why we must stand up for Utah and for our checks and balances.”
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the military construction projects on the initial list are all high priorities. At the same time, he gave a nod to the importance of border security.
Even if the Defense Department projects are postponed, “it is not a question of if they will be completed, but when,” Bishop said in a statement. The projects at Hill Air Force Base, he added, “must be completed as soon as possible.”
He then blamed Democrats for blocking border wall funding in the earlier budget bill and called for an end to the Senate filibuster. “The filibuster must be abolished, America must be defended, and we must secure our borders.”
One project the Utah senators singled out for attention was the Utah Test and Training Range Consolidated Mission Control Center, which provides real-time air and ground monitoring and test functions for the latest generation of aircraft.
About $20 million was appropriated for this center, located in two 74-year-old converted warehouses, and it is “in urgent need of important upgrades to maintain fighter pilot combat readiness,” as well as to improve safety and ensure more accurate test results of weapons systems, they said.
Diverting those funds, they warned, would “have a severe and unacceptable impact on our military readiness, at a time when the U.S. faces increased threats around the world. We respectfully urge you to reject any diversion of funds away from this critical project and would like an assurance that no reprioritization will be made that could impact readiness at Hill Air Force Base.”
If a decision is made to tap the Hill funding, the senators asked to be notified and afforded an “immediate briefing.”
Donovan K. Potter, a spokesman for Hill, said he had no additional information to offer regarding the control center or other projects on the list. He did say there have been no conversations between base officials and the senators.
“There has not. We’ve been instructed that all of the communication goes directly to the Air Force level,” Potter said, referring further questions to Davis, at the Department of Defense press office.
Davis also declined any discussion of the control center or other projects at Hill, saying, “It would be hypothetical to carry on a conversation about something that might or might not be impacted."