WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is preparing options to build barriers on the southern border in the event that President Donald Trump declares a national emergency there, the latest indication such a move is gaining traction within the administration.
"The Department of Defense is reviewing available authorities and funding mechanisms to identify options to enable border barrier construction," said Navy Capt. Bill Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman. "As there has not been such a declaration made, it would be inappropriate to comment further on those efforts."
The confirmation of the preparations comes after Trump on Thursday gave his most explicit warning yet that he was considering a declaration of a national emergency as a way of freeing up funds for a border wall if talks with Democrats fail to yield a deal on his signature issue.
Trump's declaration of an emergency at the southern border would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to design barriers and let contracts to build them.
Trump on Thursday suggested the declaration could happen at anytime. Talks between Trump and Democratic leaders fell apart Wednesday to end the partial shutdown of the federal government over border security.
"If this doesn't work out, probably I will do it - I would almost say definitely," Trump said. "We have plenty of funds if there's a national emergency."
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon that Trump is determined to build a wall on the border.
"The president believes he has an absolute right to declare a national emergency," Pence said. "The president is going to get this done one way or the other."
Those funds would come from the Pentagon's budget for construction projects approved by Congress but not yet spent.
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Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said in an interview that he opposed diverting money from the Pentagon's, or any other department's budget, to pay for the barriers. Diverting the money from the military would prevent it from, for example, building barracks to house troops.
The $5.7 billion Trump is seeking would build 234 miles of barriers. Thornberry, of Texas, said he supports improved security at the border, but not at the military's expense.
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The Army Corps of Engineers would likely be tasked with the project, Thornberry said. The corps would design the barriers and contract with construction firms to build it.
"My sense is that the president has a lot of discretion in this area," Thornberry said.
Democrats have vowed to challenge the declaration in court.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters in a teleconference Thursday he hopes Trump doesn't declare an emergency and divert military money to build a wall.
"Congress is concerned about the overreach, and I think the American public is concerned about the overreach of the executive branch of government right now," Jones said.
Contributing: Eliza Collins and Deborah Barfield Berry
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Exclusive: Pentagon preparing options to build border wall as Trump weighs emergency declaration