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House fails to override Trump veto in border wall fight

President Donald Trump speaks about border security in

President Donald Trump speaks about border security in the Oval Office of the White House on March 15 in Washington.  Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON — House Democrats failed Tuesday to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a bipartisan congressional resolution that would nullify his emergency declaration on the Southern border to shift $3.6 billion in military construction funds to build a wall.

Fourteen Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in the 248-181 vote to override as the president joined Senate Republicans for lunch on the other side of the Capitol. The tally fell about 40 votes short, as expected, of the required two-thirds of those voting.

The battle now shifts to the courts hearing lawsuits challenging the declaration by 16 state attorneys general and the ACLU as the Trump administration moves ahead with its plans to reallocate funding.

"Today, Congressional Democrats attempted to block the President’s National Emergency Declaration – they failed," said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.  "Today’s vote reaffirms Democrats are the party of open borders, drugs and crime."

Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate had objected to the president's declaration of an emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border to tap funds appropriated for military construction projects after Congress rejected his request for $5.7 billion for border wall construction.

On Monday, ahead of the House vote, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced he would shift $1 billion in military funds to build a 57-mile section of “pedestrian fencing,” roads and lighting along the border.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, responded by sending a letter from his committee to the Pentagon denying the Pentagon’s request to reallocate funds.

“Whatever one feels about the border wall, to look at the Pentagon as sort of a piggy bank … a slush fund, where you can simply go in and grab money for something when you need it, really undermines the credibility of the entire DoD budget,” Smith said at a committee hearing Tuesday.

In the debate before the vote, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) called Trump’s declaration “constitutional vandalism” and Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) called the veto override effort “a partisan whack job” because of its certain defeat.

Last week, the Defense Department sent lawmakers a list of more than 400 military construction projects worth about $13 billion that might be reallocated for the wall.

But the number of projects in the pool for border wall money shrank to about 150, worth about $4.3 billion, after the Pentagon protected money for military housing or projects that will have contracts awarded before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The long-planned $20 million construction of building for security forces training, communications and a fitness center at Gabreski National Air Guard Base in Westhampton is expected to be among the protected projects.

Defense Department documents include a schedule for bids for the Gabreski project to go out in March this year and awards to contractors to be awarded in June – which would exempt the funds from being shifted.

“We expect to award the contract prior to Sept. 30, 2019,” said Col. Richard Goldenberg, a spokesman for the New York National Guard in a phone interview last week.

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