WASHINGTON – President Trump said Wednesday that people in Buffalo don't need to worry about funding for local flood control projects being diverted to help fund the wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico.
"It will not affect Buffalo at all," Trump said in a group interview with reporters from regional news outlets from around the country.
The president appeared to concede, though, that if he were to issue an emergency declaration that would bypass Congress in order to fund the wall, some of the money could come from the Army Corps of Engineers, which does flood control projects around the country.
Pressed on whether he would rule out using Army Corps funds for the project, Trump said: "They cut from the Army Corps, but it's not going to affect other projects. Because they have so much money. They have a lot of money."
Trump made his comments at an off-the-record meeting with members of the Regional Reporters Association. Asked after the meeting if he would be comfortable with his comments on the Army Corps being made on the record so that people could get a fuller picture of his views of the wall funding issue, Trump said yes.
The president made his comments at a wide-ranging session in which he backed increased legal immigration and lauded the new trade deal he struck with Canada and Mexico.
Trump's comments on the Army Corps run counter to what agency officials told the office of Rep. Brian Higgins three weeks ago: that any pending Army Corps construction or maintenance projects could lose funding if Trump makes his emergency declaration.
That means $20.7 million in Buffalo-area federal spending could be in danger, including:
- $12.45 million in funding for dredging and other projects in the Buffalo Harbor, including the repair of the north and south breakwaters
- $4 million for a new seawall on Lake Erie in the Athol Springs section of Hamburg that's intended to prevent flooding along Route 5
- $3.7 million for a shoreline protection project at LaSalle Park
- $550,000 for the engineering and design of a motor control center and lock at the Black Rock and Tonawanda Channel
Despite Trump's reassurance on Wednesday, Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, said he remains worried about the possible loss of funding for local projects.
"Of course he's going to say that there's not going to be any impact," Higgins said. "He doesn't want there to be any semblance of resistance to what he really wants to do here."
Higgins also questioned whether Trump really understands the detailed financial impact that an emergency declaration might have on individual Army Corps projects.
Army Corps officials told Higgins' office that the cleanup of contaminated military sites would continue, but other Army Corps projects could lose funding to a wall that Trump has vowed to build along the southern border.
Trump and Congress have been stuck in stalemate for months over his demand for $5.7 billion in wall funding – a demand that led to a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended last last month.
Another shutdown could begin Feb. 15 unless the president and Congress agree on a longer-term funding bill for several government agencies. Democrats continue to resist including funding for the border wall in that spending package, but Trump has indicated he might pursue another funding option: an emergency declaration.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Trump against that move last week. Some Republicans fear the precedent it could set, as well as the court action that would likely result from such a move.
Trump didn't elaborate on his vision for the wall in the meeting Wednesday, but he did so in his State of the Union address a day before.
"This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall," he said. "It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down."
During his session with regional reporters, Trump stressed that while he strongly opposes illegal immigration, he is in favor of allowing more skilled legal immigrants to come to America, especially now that the economy has improved to the point where so many companies are looking to hire more workers.
“I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in," he said. "We need people.”
Those comments represent a turnabout in Trump administration policy. Upon entering office in 2017, Trump tightened the visa rules for skilled workers coming to America. And last September, he cut the number of refugees coming to America to 30,000 for the coming year, a record low that's far below the Obama-administration peak of 110,000.
While Wednesday's meeting with reporters was supposed to be off the record, Trump changed the rules when pressed regarding his comments on several topics, including the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Trump said that trade deal, which aims to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, will be much better for American workers.
"Look, we were being killed by those two countries under NAFTA," he said. "You know, pre-NAFTA, I’m a fan of pre-NAFTA, if you want to know the truth. I’m a big fan of pre-NAFTA. But NAFTA’s been very bad to our country. All you have to do is look at 40,000 empty buildings all over the country that, you know, some have been taken up, but a lot of them are still empty and NAFTA has been a very bad thing for our country and so has the World Trade Organization, been very bad for our country.”
Trump said his new trade deal will open Canadian markets, particularly for farmers.
"The farmers love the USMCA," he said.