This is how far Republicans will go in submissiveness to President Trump: They will vote to surrender military spending projects in their own home states and districts to avoid displeasing him.
A majority of Republicans in the Senate will vote to do just that this week. In upholding Trump’s emergency declaration, they are giving him blanket authority to take $3.6 billion from any of nearly 400 already approved military construction projects of his choosing in 43 states — and to spend it on a border wall. House Republicans already voted to put their districts’ military spending projects on the block.
The administration has avoided saying, beyond vague guidelines, which projects it will defund before lawmakers vote on overturning his emergency declaration. The Pentagon has already said it will take $1 billion from personnel funds meant for recruiting and pensions, part of a $6 billion overall raid on the Defense Department for the border wall.
Leave aside the constitutional and legal arguments, Trump’s politicization of the military and the long-term damage caused, and you’re left with a raw display of Trump’s power over Republican lawmakers: They would sooner take away money already promised to military families and constituents than anger Trump.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, will decide whether to put on the chopping block six projects at Buckley and Schriever Air Force bases and at Fort Carson worth more than $100 million.
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, who, like Gardner, is expected to face a tough election next year, will choose whether to offer for sacrifice seven projects at Luke and Davis-Monthan Air Force bases, Fort Huachuca, Camp Navajo and elsewhere worth tens of millions of dollars.
Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, will decide whether to offer up 11 projects — for air traffic, cyberprotection and training facilities, and more — at Robins Air Force Base, Fort Gordon, Fort Benning and elsewhere.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Illinois), the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, compiled a list of several hundred “unobligated” — potentially vulnerable — military construction projects and told reporters Tuesday that 20 percent would need to be axed to get to $3.6 billion.
Among those Durbin and colleagues pointed to: a new rifle range for Marines at Parris Island, South Carolina; a Special Forces training center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; a missile interceptor field at Fort Greely, Alaska; and a middle school for military families at Fort Campbell — one of seven projects at risk in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky.
Sen. Jack Reed (Rhode Island), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and a veteran, accused the Pentagon of either “misinformation or incompetence” in refusing to say which projects it will defund.
It’s certainly not the first instance of Trump pulling Republicans from their moorings. The one-time party of fiscal discipline just received a budget from Trump proposing years of trillion-dollar deficits. The party of free trade is now condoning Trump’s trade wars. The party of law and order blesses Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI, and the party of personal responsibility accepts his payment of hush money to an adult-film actress. The party of internationalism complies with Trump’s rapid pullouts from Afghanistan and Syria, leaving former vice president Richard B. Cheney to fume privately to Vice President Pence about Trump snubbing allies and cozying up to autocrats. A party that professed a commitment to the United States’ social compact is now silent as Trump proposes deep cuts to Medicare.
Now we see the party of limited government assenting to executive overreach — potentially at the expense of their own constituents.
In the House, all but 13 Republicans did so. Rep. Don Young (Alaska), for example, voted to put projects on the chopping block worth some $287 million in his state. Rep. Lee Zeldin (New York) offered up a $20 million project for a National Guard base in his district. Reps. George Holding, Richard Hudson and others in North Carolina would sacrifice more than $42 million at Fort Bragg. Rep. Chip Roy (Texas) voted to put $35 million at Joint Base San Antonio in play, and Rep. Dusty Johnson (South Dakota) offered up $15 million for a National Guard center.
Maybe Trump really convinced them of the need to pilfer from the military in support of an emergency declaration that the president himself said was unnecessary. More likely, they are frightened of crossing a man who warns that those who do “put themselves at great jeopardy.” Either way, it’s not that these lawmakers are ignoring their constituents — it’s that they are heeding a constituency of one.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.