Donald Trump

President Donald Trump speaks as he tours the U.S. border with Mexico at the Rio Grande on the southern border, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, in McAllen, Texas, as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, listens at right. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) ORG XMIT: TXEV355

Updated Friday, Jan. 11, with comments from Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge.

WASHINGTON — The White House may tap Army Corps of Engineers post-disaster construction funds under a proposal President Donald Trump is considering to declare a national emergency and bypass a funding standoff with Congress over the proposed barrier at the U.S.-Mexico border, multiple news organizations reported on Thursday.

Several long-sought flood-control projects in Louisiana — including the Comite River Diversion Canal and the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection Project — could lose funding if Trump raids the $13.9 billion disaster fund created by Congress last year to beef up defenses in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, Louisiana and other flood-hit states.

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Trump hasn’t decided whether to declare an emergency but indicated Thursday he’s moving closer to doing so in an effort to end a stalemate over money to build a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, a frequent Trump campaign pledge which Democrats have sharply criticized.

The Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Fox News and others all reported the White House had ordered the Corps of Engineers to review projects slated for construction under the fund. Louisiana received a total of $1.4 billion for Corps of Engineers projects.

The Comite and West Shore projects are both slated to be completed under the allocation. The Corps is also planning substantial work on East Baton Rouge Parish waterways and improvements to Grand Isle hurricane protections with that $1.2 billion allocation.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Army Corps of Engineers would divert funding for those Louisiana projects or pull funding from planned construction in other states to build the border barrier under the plan.

The White House didn’t respond to inquiries from The Advocate about those reports Thursday evening.

The AP quoted an unnamed official with knowledge of the proposal that it would fund construction of about 315 miles of border barrier. Right now, barriers blanket about one-third of the 1,954-mile border with Mexico. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Lauren Fine, a spokeswoman for Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson Parish, didn’t directly address questions about reports the Trump administration was eyeing Corps of Engineers post-disaster funding to build the barrier.

But Fine said Scalise, who’s played a role in negotiations over the funding stalemate as the No. 2 House Republican, hoped to strike a deal with Democrats to build the barrier without resorting to an emergency declaration.

“Congressman Scalise agrees with the President that, while he does have the authority under limited circumstances to declare a national emergency, this crisis at the border needs to be solved by Congress," Fine said. "It’s deeply unfortunate that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have refused to negotiate or put a counteroffer on the table that would secure our border. Their ‘my way or the highway’ political stunts are putting Louisiana families and all Americans at risk, and it’s time they join President Trump and all of us who have been working in good faith to reopen the government and secure our border now.”

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, hadn’t heard anything about the plans from the White House or the Pentagon, according to a spokesperson who said the congressman “strongly opposes” pulling funding from much-needed flood protection projects in southeast Louisiana “to build Trump’s wall.”

A spokesman for Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, said it appeared based on media reports and information Cassidy’s staff had gathered that projects in Louisiana might not be affected by the plan but the senator is seeking additional information from the Trump administration.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, didn’t immediately respond to emails to his office Thursday evening seeking comment. Neither did Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, whose district includes the Comite project.

Graves posted on Facebook late Friday morning that he'd been in contact with the White House, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Trump administration's budget office about "rumors" projects in Louisiana might be "on the chopping block" to divert their funding to the border wall.

"Right now, these projects and their funding are protected," said Graves, who'd fought for years to secure the funding for the Corps of Engineers projects. "We will continue to fight any effort to divert these important project funds. With all of the efforts we made to secure these funds and the importance of the projects on the line, we will not stop fighting to protect these funds and get our project built. There are other options to fund border security."

Kennedy said in a statement Friday morning he'd "received no indication from the White House that the Comite River Diversion Canal or any other Louisiana project is in danger of losing funding."

The senator did not say whether he'd been in contact with the White House about those reports or whether he'd received assurances Louisiana projects wouldn't be affected under a Trump emergency declaration to build the wall.

"What I do know is that it is impossible to secure a 1,900 mile border without using a barrier," Kennedy said before turning his ire on House Democrats. "The reason that part of the federal government is shut down is because Speaker Pelosi hates President Trump more than she wants border security."

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the incoming chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview with the AP that rebuilding the disaster areas is "a way higher priority benefiting the American people than a wasteful wall."

He said the Army Corps works on dams, levees and other projects across the nation and has an enormous backlog of unfunded needs. "It would be an incredible disservice to the American people and the economy" to divert the money to the border wall, he said.

An emergency declaration by Trump could result in a legal challenge from Democrats as an unconstitutional abuse of emergency powers. The AP is reporting that Trump said Thursday his lawyers have told him he has the "absolute right."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, to correct the figure for the construction funding the state has received for flood control. The amount is $1.4 billion, not $1.2 billion. The Advocate regrets the error.

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