WASHINGTON — The general in charge of defending the U.S. homeland said Tuesday that there is “no specific force” stemming from Latin America that is transforming itself into a military threat on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It is not a military threat,” Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of Northern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked about migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border. Northern Command was created after the September 11, 2001, to better coordinate defense of the continental United States.
Throughout the hearing, O’Shaughnessy was buffeted with questions about the need for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and the merit of President Donald Trump declaring a national emergency in order to shift funds from the military budget to pay for wall construction.
The appearance before the committee had been scheduled as a review of the Pentagon’s fiscal 2020 budget request and the future years defense program. Since no budget has been sent to tp Congress, senators used the time to discuss other issues.
In his opening statement, O’Shaughnessy said any threats at the U.S. border with Mexico “are not military in nature but they are significant and deadly.”
He later said “a secure border will reduce threats to the homeland” but could not cite specific examples to support that conclusion. “But that’s slightly different than the answer of whether military should be responding to the situation,” he said.
Trump declared a national emergency on Feb. 15 in order to reallocate fund approved for other uses to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House said Trump seeks $3.6 billion from military construction coffers, $2.5 billion from military counter-narcotics programs, and $600 million from a Treasury Department forfeiture seizure program from criminals.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) asked if the number of drug overdoses would be sufficient to constitute a national emergency. O’Shaughnessy said the drug issue is a national concern that requires the “whole of government approach.”
A wall will help on several challenges, O’Shaughnessy said, “Any barrier in place to secure our nation does have some ramifications to our ability to defend against a military threat as well,” he said.
He said he did not take a position on a wall during his conversations with the president but believes “our perspective was considered.”
The House is scheduled to vote today on legislation that would block the transfer of funds by voiding Trump’s national emergency declaration. If it passes the House, it must be voted on by the Senate within three weeks, according to law.
To pass the Senate, where the GOP has a 53 to 47 edge, at least four Republican senators would have to vote in favor of the legislation — if all Democrats also vote yes. Three have said they are considering such a vote.
Trump has said he will veto the bill, which would be his first veto.