Aug 9, 2018, 12:19 PM ET

Republicans propose reallocating Coast Guard ship funding to Trump's border wall

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Despite urgent warnings of the need to bolster the U.S. Coast Guard's ailing polar icebreaker fleet – now just a single functional 42-year-old vessel – some Republicans in Congress have proposed diverting $750 million planned for a new ship to President Donald Trump's long-promised border wall.

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The Coast Guard currently has one working heavy icebreaker ship, the Polar Star, that’s been in service since 1976 – well past its intended 30-year service life.

Due to worn-out electric motors and other problems, the Coast Guard placed the ship in “caretaker” status in 2006. It was later reactivated in 2012 after requiring nearly $60 million in repairs, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“We need six icebreakers, three of them need to be heavy icebreakers, and we really need one today,” Adm. Karl L. Schultz, the new commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said at an event in Washington last week.

“There’s still a lot of interest in getting an icebreaker to replace our 40-plus-year-old Polar Star, which is the only heavy icebreaker in the U.S. arsenal,” he said. “We need that ship now.”

The Coast Guard, under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, requested $750 million in its annual budget that would go towards a new ship that would be ready for service by 2023, when the Guard expects to retire the Polar Star.

Even Trump himself promised a new ship while at a Guard change-of-command ceremony in June.

“One of the first times I met the Admiral, last year, I asked him, "What do you need?" He replied, "Sir, we need icebreakers, and we need them badly." Well, now, you're getting them,” Trump said.

“And, to be specific, I'm pleased to report that the Coast Guard is now on course to receive its first new heavy icebreaker in more than 40 years, and plenty other ships and boats and equipment and everything you need,” he went on.

But House Republicans, led by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, instead opted to strip funding for the new ship from its proposed 2019 House budget bill and reallocated the funds that would go towards the planned border wall at the US-Mexico border.

A spokesperson for Frelinghuysen has not responded to ABC News' request for comment.

PHOTO: Construction workers place a panel of new bollard wall with the help of heavy machinery in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, as seen from the Mexican side of the border in San Jeronimo, on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 23, 2018.Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters
Construction workers place a panel of new bollard wall with the help of heavy machinery in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, as seen from the Mexican side of the border in San Jeronimo, on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 23, 2018.

Democrats, in a letter sent to Frelinghuysen last month, slammed Republicans for “wasting a staggering $4.9 billion on a border wall” and called on the chairman to reconsider the “misallocation of resources” amid heightened tensions with Russia, who is so far dominating the Arctic space.

“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider the misallocation of resources, which would undermine all 11 of the Coast Guard’s statutory missions and place our nation at a distinct economic, geopolitical and national security disadvantage for decades to come,” the letter said.

The Arctic region is believed to hold an estimated 13 percent of the world’s untapped oil reserves, 30 percent of its natural gas and vast mineral resources, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates.

With sea ice declining, largely due to global warming, valuable waterways in the Arctic are now accessible with the use of polar icebreaker ships that can power through thick ice with specially angled bows and reinforced hulls designed for open-water icebreaking.

Among Russia’s booming arsenal of tools: nearly 50 polar icebreaker ships that can tear through large chunks of ice, making it easier to access those resources, according to the Congressional Research Office.

“Russia has claimed natural resources and territory in the Arctic that exceed its internationally recognized rights, and is making investments in its ice-capable military assets to back those claims,” several Democratic lawmakers wrote in the letter.

In the past few years, Russia has invested heavily in building up its military presence in the Arctic, constructing new bases, refurbishing Soviet-era ones and designing communications infrastructure.

China is also not far behind. Earlier this year, China outlined ambitions to extend President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming.

While the Chinese icebreaker fleet is even smaller than the US', Beijing recently started the bidding process to build its own nuclear-powered icebreaker, even though China has no territorial rights to the Arctic region.

In the letter, the Democrats said the U.S. is “woefully unprepared for the reality of rising global temperatures and melting sea ice.”

“Certainly America’s got to up its game in the Arctic. There’s no doubt about that,” Defense Secretary James Mattis expressed to reporters in Alaska ahead of a trip to Asia in June.

The Department of Homeland Security told ABC News that the department goes under “a routine process to assess the resource execution of programs” and that Congress has given DHS the authority to reallocate funds, but only after the budget is passed by Congress and signed by the president.

“As a part of this process, the Department evaluates the need to reallocate funds and does so in a manner to minimize the impact on its operations and mission execution to the maximum extent possible,” DHS spokesperson Lesley Fulop told ABC News in a statement.

A spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee has not responded to ABC News’ request for comment.

The absence of funding for a new ship in the House’s Republican-led budget bill was met with criticism from their counterparts in the Senate, who have included the $750 million in their version of the budget bill.

PHOTO: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, gavels in a Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Dirksen Building on the FY2019 budget request for the Interior Department on May 10, 2018.Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, gavels in a Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Dirksen Building on the FY2019 budget request for the Interior Department on May 10, 2018.

“In our Homeland Security FY19 Appropriations bill here in the Senate, we included funding to fully build our first polar strength icebreaker in almost fifty years. It is exceedingly unfortunate that the House does not recognize the sense of urgency, as we deal with Arctic priorities,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told ABC News in a statement.

But the lack of funding for a new icebreaker ship is not a done deal.

Both the House and Senate versions of the budget must still pass out of their respective chambers, and then the bill would go to conference, where the differences between the two bills will be ironed out.

A source familiar with the budget process told ABC News that the committee’s decision to divert the funds to the border wall is likely a “political tactic” meant to appease the president in his quest to build his coveted border wall.

“I think it’s hard not to see how the pressure from the president isn’t playing into that,” the source told ABC News.

The source said that while committees make tactical moves in bills “all the time,” this one “happens to be a really big one.”

It’s possible the $750 million is eventually reallocated back to the polar icebreaker ship, the source said.

As for the president’s proposed budget wall, a report by the Government Accountability Office released Friday warned that DHS has not provided a complete analysis required to efficiently build the barrier along the US-Mexico border.

"DHS plans to spend billions of dollars developing and deploying new barriers along the southwest border," the study said. "However, by proceeding without key information on cost, acquisition baselines, and the contributions of previous barrier and technology deployments, DHS faces an increased risk that the Border Wall System Program will cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected."

ABC News' Serena Marshall and Elizabeth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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  • paul_I

    If Trump promised us the Mexicans will pay for the wall, and if the Coast Guard now is going to pay for the wall, does than mean the Republicans think the members of the Coast Guard are Mexican?

  • cephalo

    Let's take funding from something that might be useful, to something that is useless.

  • supersenior

    It will be amusing to see that building the wall makes very little real difference when it comes to illegal immigration.

  • WorkingClass

    How about they reallocate funds from Trump's golf trips? That would pay for many miles of the wall. Why does Trump care more about golfing than the security of the people?

  • chris3dog

    Even more popular among Republicans is using Social Security funds to build the Wall!

  • thinkmore

    Stall the useless wall. Trump won't be around long.

  • hold-the-phone

    Strip funding from badly needed icebreakers? No problem; in case we ever need one for arctic rescue, etc., we can depend on Russia for that just like we depend on their rockets to get our astronauts into space... /s SAD!

  • Citizen123

    Is the GOP really that desperate? Pathetic!!!

  • Truthful Opinion

    $700 million? That will build a 1000 foot section.

  • Forward forward

    Is this a Mexican Coast Guard boat they want to cancel? Mexico IS paying for the wall, aren't they? Trump and his inbred followers told me that dozens of times.

  • quasi_anyon

    The spending is out of control. Treasury has to do an emergeny sell of notes, $173 billion so the US doesn't default this quarter. CBO shows even more serious issue, the tax cuts resulting in much lower income than expected.

    Little Donny John and Pãan Pence are the worst of humanity and they have no idea what they are doing.

    Destroy the Republicans at the polls, take back our country and eliminate the kakistocracy.

  • Rick Beacham

    What in the world did the video on this page have to do with the headline posted on the link as well as the top of this page....

  • John Barron

    Perhaps Republicans just realize the arctic is warming and we will have no need for icebreakers.

    Perhaps we should allot funding for tropical cruise ships.

  • Alex

    Why is this even an issue, according to the wannabe dictator Mexico is paying for the wall. So show us the receipt of that transaction so we can see Mexico gave us the funding for the wall and then we can talk about approving the wall.

  • MtnGirl

    Really? Trump and the Republicans are willing to sell OUR Coast Guard for a wall? This is the stupidest thing the Hill has thought of yet. White House are you keeping your twitter-in-chief briefed on world affairs?

  • Clyde Delgato

    Listen Trump supporters. Breaking Arctic ice is our wall to the North to keep millions of illegal asians from crossing the ice and getting into Alaska where they can walk South to our very own white neighborhoods. These are not the pretty white skinned Asians that are good at math. These are almost as dark as Mexicans and they already crossed once which is where all these Red Skinned Indians came from. You know, the original illegal immigrants. The Coast Guard also protects us in the gulf where they might try to swim past our anti Mexican wall. Sure we have to have a wall to stop the brown skinned hoard but the Coast Guard is part of that. Don't defund the Coast Guard. Tell your Congressman that the Coast Guard needs ice breakers to keep these people out of our country since swimming miles in frozen water may stop them.

    Gotta speak their language.

  • Nearl45 61

    Pretty soon our safety net money will be proposed for the border wall.

    Food stamp appropriations next?

  • ruelph

    Ridiculous! The nation doesn’t need the border wall, but it needs the Coast Guard ships.

  • MtnGirl

    I thought Trump campaigned on Mexico paying for the wall? Now he wants to sell out America's defense? Sorry, anyone who still supports this traitor is off their rocker!

  • yetanother1

    A dart board for govt. funding would work better and smarter than these clowns.

  • jake

    No funding for our Coast Guard to protect our borders? Sounds like the GOP is the party in favor of "open borders" not the Dems as they claim.

  • Cagey-B

    Polar icebreakers: proven technology.
    Border wall: never, ever going to happen ( wouldn't work and would be an environmental disaster even if it was built, which it won't be ).
    So of course put all your eggs in the border wall basket.
    Welcome to Bizarro World.

  • Impetus

    If anybody needs me I'll just be over here banging my head against my desk.

  • Krimson

    Still trying to figure out what a coast guard icebreaker ship has to do with Mexico paying for the wall???

  • lou g

    These idiot GOP Trump supporters in Congress need to realize spending money meant for our military diverted to the Great Wall of Trump is absolutely wasteful and ridiculous. They are hoping Trump's base will vote for them in November. They don't care for the country and it's citizens as a whole, they just care about their party.

  • mollydtt

    I’m pretty sure that the border wall won’t perform as expected, but Trump will just blame that on the democrats.

  • GarfieldRocks

    How many people would miss that stupid parade??????????

  • mollydtt

    If there is one thing the GOP is “good at”, it is “appeasing the president”.
    He’ll get that idiotic wall.

  • Forward forward

    If the Coast Guard ship is 'extra' put the money back in the treasury. If it is needed, build it. Trump and his dimwitted followers told us dozens of times that Mexico was paying for the wall. Follow through on that.

  • gs12

    Morons and their wall. It won't work.

  • Tov Bender

    Give us the damn $$ for the wall and get your DACA and the new icebreaker.

  • ReviewTheFacts

    Let me get this straight. Republicans want to defund the Coast Guard, which keeps illegal drugs from coming in and patrols our coasts against invasion, so they can build a wall that will encourage people to go over it, under it, or sail around it (using our coast to sneak in)??????

    That borders on the ridiculous!

  • GarfieldRocks

    There is a certain parade that we could do without. A $30 million parade.

  • SpankyHamm

    Trump Supporters: Build That Wall

    Me: OK - how about you pay for it directly. Volunteer to have 5% taken from your paycheck which will go into the BTW fund. If you want it - you pay for it?

    Trump Supporters: Wait, what?

  • Jen Bordon

    Every day the corrupt Republicans demonstrate exactly why they most be voted out of office.

  • odddave

    Walls not only keep people out, they will keep us in.

  • PerchLady

    Hello, GOP? Remember that your Dear Leader said Mexico would pay for the wall. Stop taking money from other appropriations to pay for a wall...unless you dock Trump's personal travel budget. Come Sunday, he will have spent 6 months out of the last 19 months at one of his golf resorts. That's over $100 million for pleasure, aircraft costs and staff per diems. How many sections of wall could have been built for that?

  • Eric Janssen

    Okay, Trump: You can make your Wall-Eyes happy by giving them what you got applause for promising them out of your generous hands, or, you can make our gallant Coast Guard happy by giving them what you got applause for promising them out of your generous hands....but you CAN'T. HAVE. BOTH. . Time to choose.

    Like you said....being President is HARD, isn't it? :)