DeSantis says Trump may not have authority to swipe disaster funds to pay for border wall

Gov. Ron DeSantis. Mitch Perry photo

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expressed concern on Friday about reports that President Donald Trump is considering taking disaster relief money – including tax dollars for hurricane relief in Florida – from the federal budget to secure funding for his border wall.

Trump is reportedly looking at nearly $14 billion in the Army Corps of Engineers budget that was allocated in February 2018 legislation  – but was never spent. That bill provided funding for disaster relief efforts in places like Florida after Hurricane Irma, as well as Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. It also was intended for flood management projects in Texas and flood protection and wildlife management in California, the Associated Press reports.

Federal law allows the president to halt military construction projects and divert those funds for an emergency.

“I just don’t know the details,” DeSantis told reporters who gathered outside his office at the Capitol Friday morning. “In all my years in Congress, we never dealt with this idea of an emergency, so I need to look at the law and figure out kind of how it is.”

DeSantis and Trump are well-known allies, with the president campaigning several times for DeSantis in his both his primary and general elections for governor last year. DeSantis said he had not spoken to Trump about any possible plan the president might have to divert disaster relief dollars to fund the planned border wall.

The president has been pressing Congress for $5.7 billion for a wall stretching 234 miles. Democratic leadership opposes the proposal, and the impasse has led to a partial federal government shutdown that is now 21 days old.

DeSantis’s calling card during his six years as a U.S. Representative in northeast Florida has been as a strict constitutionalist, and he knows that Congress is charged with appropriating funds – not the president.  Trump can only appropriate such funds if he declares a national emergency, an action which he has been hinting in recent days that he might do. Democratic lawmakers say they’ll sue if that happens.

“My sense is –  just as somebody who studies the Constitution –  the president just wouldn’t be able to appropriate his own money under any circumstances,” DeSantis said. “You may be able to repurpose some money. I’m not sure how that works. Obviously, anything that was done on the disaster front, we have people who are counting on that. If they backfill it immediately after the government opens, that’s fine. But I don’t want that to be where that money is not available for us.”

Northwest Florida GOP Congressman Matt Gaetz, a close ally of DeSantis and Trump, expressed discomfort at the possibility of Trump calling the border situation a national emergency.

“I don’t want the next national emergency to be that some Democrat president says we have to build transgender bathrooms in every elementary school in America,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

 

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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