President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have discussed the possibility that the U.S. military front the costs for a border wall, the Pentagon confirmed Thursday.
“The secretary has talked to the president about it,” said Pentagon press secretary Dana White. “Securing Americans and securing the nation is of paramount importance to the secretary. They have talked about it but I don’t have any more details as to specifics.”
President Trump signed the $1.3 trillion budget into law last Friday. The bill provides $700 billion in 2018 and $716 billion in 2019 to the Defense Department, money Mattis and the service chiefs have repeatedly emphasized is critical to rebuilding military readiness and lethality.
In a tweet on Sunday, Trump suggested that part of the Pentagon’s new-found wealth could be used for the wall.
“Because of the $700 & $716 Billion Dollars gotten to rebuild our Military, many jobs are created and our Military is again rich,” Trump tweeted early Sunday. “Building a great Border Wall, with drugs (poison) and enemy combatants pouring into our Country, is all about National Defense. Build WALL through M!”
The next day, Mattis told reporters that the newly signed budget gave the military “the best budget predictability we’ve had in a dozen years.”
“We do intend to get the planes back in the air, fully staffed squadrons back in the air, ships back to sea and the new gear built. In some cases, we’re going to have to build even legacy gear,” Mattis said. “In some cases, we don’t have enough Air Force fighters, aircraft or a Navy fighter, a Marine fighter in the squadron — we can’t fix them.”
“It’ll take years,” he said.
White said it was a “bridge too far” to assume that military readiness would be hurt if DoD has to cut $25 billion from its spending plan to pay for the wall, instead of using those funds for DoD priorities, such as buying new aircraft to replace aging aircraft and increasing the size of the Navy.
“It’s been an initial conversation,” White said. “The president and the secretary, there’s been no daylight between them with respect to ensuring that this military stays the most lethal in the world. There is no disagreement between them on that issue.”
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.