Donald Trump has come under fire this week after it was announced that the Pentagon would be diverting $3.6 billion in military funding to construction projects on the US-Mexico border wall.
Building a wall along America's southern border was one of Trump's key campaign promises in 2016, but his attempts to fulfil this pledge have faced regular opposition in Congress.
The latest move to use Pentagon funding for construction work along the border has attracted the ire of the president's political opponents, who have warned it will damage morale in the military and potentially undermine national security.
US secretary of defence Mark Esper sent a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee providing details of the Trump administration's plans to use the $3.6 billion in military funds for 11 separate construction projects along 175 miles of the US-Mexico border. More than 120 military projects, including schools and daycare centres for military families, will be put on hold as a result.
In his letter to Congress, Esper said he had determined that this construction work is necessary to “support the use of the armed forces in connection with the national emergency”.
Trump declared a national emergency in February this year over the issue of security and immigration at the southern border, a move that gave him the power to access military funds without approval from Congress.
In July, the Supreme Court ruled that the president could use $2.5 billion of the Pentagon's budget for construction of sections of the border wall in California, Arizona and New Mexico.
The latest move to divert $3.6 billion in military funding will affect projects in 23 states, three US territories overseas and 20 foreign countries. The domestic work due to be put on hold includes the replacement of a hazardous materials warehouse in Virginia and construction of an engineering centre at West Point Military Academy in New York.
‘Slap in the face'
The Trump administration's most recent efforts to provide funding for the border wall have angered the president's political opponents.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York, called the diversion of $3.6 billion from the Pentagon budget a “slap in the face” for people serving in the military.
He issued a statement saying the decision will pose a risk to “already planned, important projects intended to support our service members at military installations in New York, across the United States and around the world”.
“It is a slap in the face to the members of the armed forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalise already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build,” the statement added.
Jack Reed, the senior senator from Rhode Island and the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also went on the attack, saying Trump's immigration efforts had “failed since day one”.
He added: “Today, he made it clear he is willing to take funds from our troops and disaster victims and divert them to try to protect his political right flank. And ultimately, that could put Americans at risk.”
Gearing up for 2020
Being tough on immigration and continuing to fight for the funds required to build his promised wall is likely to be one of Trump's key messages as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.
Securing the additional $3.6 billion – even if it is taken from US military funding, rather than from Mexico, as the president has previously suggested – could provide more fuel for his rhetoric in the lead-up to November 2020.
Another theme to which Trump regularly returns, and which will be closely scrutinised during the election race, is the strength of the US economy, particularly in light of global challenges such as the ongoing trade war with China.
There was a significant development on that front this week, with Washington and Beijing agreeing to resume negotiations in early October. The meeting will be the first face-to-face talks between the US and China since the most recent escalations in the trade dispute, which saw the countries exchanging tit-for-tat tariffs on billions of dollars of imported goods.
Markets responded positively to the planned resumption of negotiations, with the Shanghai Composite Index rising by up to two per cent on Thursday and Japan's Nikkei climbing by 2.3 per cent.
Indications in the US suggested the Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes would all open higher on Thursday morning.