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McFeely: North Dakota military projects could be cut to fund border wall

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the El Paso County Coliseum in El Paso, Texas, Feb. 11, 2019. (Sarah Silbiger/Copyright 2019 The New York Times)

Major military construction projects in Fargo and Minot could lose up to $98 million in federal funding to help pay for a southern border wall supported by President Donald Trump and North Dakota's Congressional delegation.

According to a list compiled by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, a $32 million National Guard Readiness Center in Fargo and a $66 million helicopter facility at the Minot Air Force Base could be endangered by Trump's emergency declaration last week that will allow him to divert money from other government operations to build a wall along a portion of the Mexican border.

Trump could take up to $3.6 billion from military projects around the U.S. and bases in other parts of the world.

North Dakota U.S. Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer and U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, all Republicans like Trump, supported the president's decision to declare an emergency to fund the wall. All blamed Congress for not funding a border wall, with Hoeven specifically singling out Democrats.

"As he's said from day one, POTUS will address the crisis at the southern border, whether or not Congress does," Cramer said on Twitter. "Today he fulfilled that promise and acted—not without precedent—to put national security first."

"The crisis on our southern border needs to be addressed now and President Trump did what needs to be done by declaring a national emergency," Armstrong said. "For years, Congress and past administrations have kicked this can down the road. I will continue to work with the administration to better address the emergency, build the wall and stop the flow of drugs and human trafficking."

Fargo's National Guard Readiness Center was approved for a fiscal year 2019 military construction project. It will serve as a training location for three Army National Guard sections of the 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, the 191st Military Police Company and the 112th Aviation Regiment.

Minot's helicopter facility was also approved for the 2019 budget. It will be a complex built at the base, meant to house new-era helicopters that patrol the Minot missile field. The new helicopters will replace Vietnam War-era "Huey" choppers currently at the Minot AFB, according to a Minot Daily News article from last year.

"Replacing the Vietnam-era Huey helicopters is long overdue and this helicopter facility is a big step to make that happen," Cramer, then North Dakota's U.S. House member, said in a press release at the time.

Trump's declaration came one day after the House and Senate agreed on a spending deal to avoid another government shutdown. It included $1.4 billion for a new barrier along a 55-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border, but that was short of the $5.7 billion the president demanded for the wall.

The emergency declaration frees up about $10 billion Congress had set aside for military base construction projects. The North Dakota projects are just two of dozens of potential cuts. The appropriations committee list includes, for example, 24 projects in California totaling more than $800 million for fiscal year 2019.

Trump has other sources from which he could divert money for the wall. Before the emergency declaration announcement Friday, White House officials said the president would redirect about $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, an account funded by money seized by the U.S. government, and $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense’s counter-drug activities in addition to the $3.6 billion from military construction accounts.

The officials said Trump would use the other sources before military construction funds are diverted.

The Military Times reported Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., was against using military funds for the wall even as he supports the border security effort.

"I don't want anything to degrade military construction," Inhofe said.

Trump is already facing legal challenges to the emergency declaration. Sixteen states, including Minnesota, have sued to stop the president from using emergency powers to build the wall.

Some Republican Senators, too, are wary of Trump usurping Congressional appropriation powers to build the wall.

“For the president to repurpose unilaterally billions of dollars that have been appropriated by Congress for specific needs undermines the role of Congress and is of dubious constitutionality,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told the New York Times.