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House GOP urges Trump not to redirect disaster relief money to fund border wall

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) --  Ahead of a potential announcement by President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency and reallocate billions of dollars to pay for a border wall, House Republicans representing congressional districts that are still recovering from hurricanes say they’re opposed to the plan.

“Our district is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey,” Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, told ABC News. “I hope that they can get those [funds] from somewhere else.”

Rep. Buddy Carter said that there’s “no question” Georgians are still recovering from Hurricane Michael, and urged the president not to redirect any disaster relief money from the Peach State to cover the border wall.

“As a result of Hurricane Michael, in southwest Georgia in particular, we’ve had devastating impact on our crops and in order for the farmers to recover and to start planning for the next cycle, then they need that disaster relief as soon as possible,” Carter, R-Georgia, said. “There’s a need for disaster relief. No question about it.”

Another Texas Republican, Rep. Roger Williams, defended the House’s constitutional power of the purse and urged congressional leaders to negotiate an agreement with the president.

“I’m not for that idea right now. I’m for getting back to negotiations,” Williams said. “I think Congress should have a hand in it. I represent Fort Hood, the largest military base in the country, and we’re doing a lot of great things down there with our motor pools, with our runways, with our barracks that sorely need to be done to, you know, create an environment for our soldiers. So I don’t want any money taken from there. We’ve got a lot of momentum going there, so I would hope that we could negotiate this thing.”

Rep. John Rutherford, R-Florida, said it “remains to be seen” whether Trump has the authority to fund the wall without congressional approval, but he is also “very supportive of getting that wall built.”

Carter also agreed there is “some question” as to whether Trump has the power to reprogram disaster relief to pay for the border wall.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Carter said. “I hope that we can get this worked out and that we can fulfill our obligation and that is to secure our borders.”

While he’d like Trump to pursue alternate funding options, Babin – who is refusing his congressional salary until the government reopens – stressed that the president is “doing the right thing” by refusing to reopen government over his $5.7 billion demand.

“I’ll tell you, we need to have border security. That is something else that is pressing hard on the state of Texas right now,” he said. “It is a crisis beyond most people’s imaginations and we’ve got to have some relief there.”

Williams, who served as secretary of state of Texas prior to his election to Congress, said that border patrol has told him that they need a physical barrier at the border to control illegal immigration.

“We have a real, real problem, okay?” Williams said. “They need some sort of barrier to improve what’s going on.”

“I’m total[ly] for border security. It’s a real thing. If you live in Texas, you get it. We want people to realize the American dream, but they need to do it legally,” Williams continued. “A lot of things can happen there, but I totally support the president on border security.”

Carter said he’s visited the southern border and believes a solution will require additional border security measures beyond a physical barrier.

“It’s going to take more than just the wall, more than just a fence,” Carter said. “A fence works perfect in some areas, such as San Diego, but in other areas like Arizona, you need boots on the ground, you need technology. You need blimps, drones. All those types of things.”

The money for the wall could possibly be drawn from the Army Corps of Engineer's Long Term Disaster Recovery Investment Plan Construction Account, which totals about $13.9 billion and is comprised from more than 50 projects – mainly from Puerto Rico, as well as Texas, Florida, California – and to a lesser degree projects in Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The White House has specifically asked the Army Corps of Engineers to examine what funds could be redirected to the border wall from an emergency supplemental that passed in February 2018.

One U.S. official said the money could be used to build as much as 315 miles of border wall under the direction of the Army Corps of Engineers.

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