WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared on Tuesday that he is prepared to deploy American troops to the U.S. and Mexican border until his long-promised border wall is fully funded and built.
The president, speaking to reporters at a joint news conference at the White House with the leaders of three Baltic states, also said he wanted to “bring our troops home” from Syria — a message at odds with his top advisers in the region who argued Tuesday the “mission isn’t over” in the conflict- torn nation.
Trump, who for days has been railing against reports of hundreds of migrants journeying together to the United States from Mexico in a so-called caravan, told reporters he has been speaking with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis about militarizing the border.
“We have very bad laws for our border, and we are going to be doing some things — I’ve been speaking with General Mattis — we’re going to be doing things militarily,” Trump said at the White House as he met with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. “Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.”
The move is not entirely unprecedented — former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama previously deployed thousands of National Guard troops to the southern border during periods with an increase in border crossings. U.S. law bars active-duty military from apprehending and arresting people at the border, so troops largely aided with surveillance efforts, passing along information to border patrol agents who have the authority to detain incoming migrants.
Trump’s call for troops at the border comes as he continues to press Congress to approve $25 billion in funding for the “big, beautiful” southern border wall he promised on the campaign trail. The $1.3 trillion spending package recently passed by lawmakers only includes $1.6 billion for border wall funding, and the bulk of that money must be used to repair existing parts of the wall, not for new construction.
Though Congress remains in recess this week, some lawmakers were quick to question the president’s military plan.
Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, appearing on Fox News, said he advocated abiding by “the normal process.”
“I would rather have the dealings with immigration be handled in a civil context rather than a military one,” Rooney said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 ranking Democrat in the Senate, said on Twitter: “I’m not sure which country he’s getting his inspiration from, but here in the United States, the President does not have the legal authority to use the women and men of our Armed Forces for his own personal boondoggles.”
Trump on Tuesday also emphasized his willingness to pull American troops out of Syria, telling reporters, “I want to get out.” There are currently some 2,000 U.S. forces in Syria fighting against the Islamic State, which has seen its presence diminish in the area.
“I want to bring our troops back home,” Trump said at the White House. “I want to start rebuilding our nation . . . We were very successful against ISIS. We’ll be successful against anybody militarily, but sometimes it’s time to come back home. And we’re thinking about that very seriously.”
Meanwhile, several blocks away from the White House, two of the president’s top military advisers speaking at a national security conference, said the mission in Syria was far from over.
Brett McGurk, the special U.S. envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, said: “We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission, and our mission isn’t over and we are going to complete that mission.”
U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, who oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East as the head of Central Command, said allied troops have made inroads in taking back Islamic State held territories, but said the group’s presence “is not gone.”
“The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes,” Votel said.