Politics & Government

Democrats use former military teacher to press McConnell on Trump wall money

Senate Democrats are deploying a former teacher at Kentucky’s Fort Campbell to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans to revoke President Donald Trump’s bid to divert $3.6 billion from military projects to build his wall at the border with Mexico.

James Kellar, who recently retired after 36 years as a math teacher and guidance counselor, joined Senate Minority Chuck Schumer, D-New York, on the Senate grounds Tuesday, charging it was “unconscionable” that the administration would take $63 million approved for a new middle school at the Kentucky military base and spend it on the wall. Trump repeatedly vowed during his 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Kellar said students are already crowded into an old building in “constant need of maintenance.” He described the classrooms as either too hot or too cold, depending on the time of the year.

“The students at Fort Campbell deserve better,” Kellar said. “They deserve to know their education and their well-being are priorities that will not be put on a shelf whenever a politician makes a promise that he can’t keep.”

McConnell in June 2018 touted that he had secured funding for the school along with other “critical resources” for the state.

McConnell said he has spoken with Defense Secretary Mark Esper about the school funding “a number of times” and is committed to protecting the money.

The Democrat press conference came as Senate Democrats prepare this week to force the Senate to vote on a measure that would block Trump’s national emergency declaration, which is being used to funnel military dollars toward the border wall.

The chamber already voted to block the president’s maneuver in March, about a month after Trump declared a “national emergency” in response to an influx of undocumented immigrants crossing into the United States at the southern border.

But the Senate effort did not get enough support to sustain a presidential veto, even with 12 Senate Republicans voting in favor.

This time, though Schumer noted that the military has identified the 127 pre-approved military construction projects it will divert money from. He noted several are in states where Republican senators face tough reelection bids.

“Now we have a whole number of Republicans who voted with the president who see their military bases being ransacked, pillaged, etc.,” Schumer said. “I don’t think the people of any state, whatever the politics are, like money being taken away from their military installations.”

McConnell blamed Democrats for opposing Trump’s border wall, saying the opposition has “now led to the potential delay of certain military construction projects. We would not be in this situation if Democrats were serious about protecting our homeland and worked with us to provide the funding needed to secure our borders during our appropriations process. “

One of McConnell’s 2020 Democratic challengers has pressed him to restore the money after he last year bragged that he had secured funding for the school.

“Mitch McConnell took credit for money Congress allocated toward building a new school at Fort Campbell after the Pentagon listed the school as overcrowded and underfunded,” Democrat Amy McGrath said. “Now he’s changed course and once again let an entire community down.”

The Pentagon maintains that the projects are not canceled but will be delayed until Congress passes an appropriations bill that “backfills” the money. The Senate version of the most recent defense bill includes $3.6 billion to cover some of the projects that will be used for the wall, but the House version does not.

McConnell said he hopes Schumer’s concern “translates into Democratic votes for that funding,” but Democratic senators said they are disinclined to support putting the already-approved funding back into the National Defense Authorization Act.

“If we don’t stand up to this, it will happen again and again,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico. “No backfill is going to help unless we stop these raids.”

Lesley Clark works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, covering all things Kentucky for McClatchy’s Lexington Herald-Leader. A former reporter for McClatchy’s Miami Herald, she also spent several years covering the White House.