By: Mark Paoletta // Originally appeared in the Federalist
A recent Politico article by Caitlin Emma on President Joe Biden’s hold of funding for border wall construction provides a perfect example of the press running cover for the Biden administration. Almost every sentence is designed to excuse or defend Biden’s action, and of course smear the Trump team in the process.
Biden’s executive order on Jan. 20 ordered a hold on all funds being used for the construction of the wall along the U.S. southern border, including funds Congress specifically appropriated for border wall construction. Based on the Government Accountability Office’s opinion finding that the Trump administration violated the law for pausing Ukraine funding in the same manner, it would seem like a slam dunk that Biden’s hold is illegal.
While the headline states Biden “is under fire,” almost every sentence in the story is designed to defend Biden’s actions, beginning with the rest of the title that says Biden would merely be a “rule-breaker” if it was determined he violated federal law. In the same story, there are no references to “rule breaking” for the same action by Trump’s Office of Management and Budget pausing the Ukraine funds. The word used? “Illegal.”
Politico blindly accepts the Biden OMB official’s defense that Biden’s hold was publicly announced, while the Trump OMB’s hold was secret. This distinction has zero relevance to whether the hold violates federal law. But you would not know that reading this article.
Politico also reprints the Biden OMB’s official distinction that the Biden hold was not done by using OMB’s apportionment power, as the Trump OMB did with Ukraine funding. Whether OMB is using its apportionment power or an agency is holding the funds is irrelevant to whether this is legal.
The article later implies that Trump used these same tactics to pause funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), but links to a story that literally begins with President Trump announcing the hold. And OMB’s apportionment authority was not used to pause WHO funding.
Politico also prints a Biden OMB official’s statement that the Trump OMB tried to “permanently tie up [Ukraine funds] by taking action right before the annual spending deadline.” That’s false.
Those Ukraine funds were first paused informally beginning in mid-June of 2019, more than three months before the end of the fiscal year. OMB’s first apportionment footnote holding those funds was placed on July 25. These dates are not even close to the Sept. 30 fiscal year deadline. Those funds were in fact released and obligated.
Politico writes approvingly that White House officials defend the hold because it was necessary to “come up with a plan to spend the money.” That is exactly what the Trump OMB argued when pausing the Ukraine funds, and GAO rejected this argument. It instead found that the administration can’t pause funds for a policy review to determine how best to spend the money.
Politico wrote that the Trump OMB’s justification for holding the funds to conduct a policy review was “vehemently swatted down [by GAO], citing the president’s policy and political ambitions.” That’s false. There is not a single reference in GAO’s opinion to Trump’s “political ambitions.” Or any political ambitions. GAO focused on OMB’s justification for hold.
Biden’s OMB official states the funds are being held consistent with appropriations law. Reports are that all construction work is frozen, and based on GAO’s opinion, this would violate appropriations law. OMB undoubtedly believes it is permissible to hold funds for a policy review because that was the exact same position the Trump OMB took. But GAO and congressional Democrats rejected that position. Politico’s article did not challenge this at all.
Speaking of congressional Democrats and Politico’s partisan slant, the article writes approvingly of House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth and his supposed nonpartisan desire to strengthen Congress’s power of the purse, but the article not once challenges Yarmuth for being utterly silent during the Biden administration’s pause of congressionally appropriated funds, despite his obsession with just such executive actions during the Trump administration. This is especially interesting as Politico—even this same Politico journalist—parroted every accusatory Yarmuth press release during the last administration.
Politico ends its supposed straight news article by noting that the Biden administration “has also promised to release the money if the pause violated congressional intent.” Under GAO’s legal analysis, pausing funds violates the law. Unfreezing the money would be a welcome development, but according to GAO’s opinion, it would be “too little, too late” to avoid being an illegal impoundment.
Biden has already violated his executive order deadline to have a plan within 60 days to spend these funds. It’s day 85 and there is no plan, and no evidence that a plan is coming any time soon.https://d95cb34be1bb3805b5d833b972683ce3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has stated that the border wall funds appropriated by Congress are “still moving forward,” but press reports indicate all funds are frozen. This appears to be a false statement, but no one in the crack media corps, including Politico, is fact-checking this apparently false claim.
What is going on here? This story, like so many stories, is written with false facts and false narratives to cover for Biden, and of course smear Trump. Politico never contacted a Trump OMB official to get their side of the story. This isn’t journalism, this is being part of Team Biden.
Mark Paoletta served as OMB general counsel in the Trump administration from January 2018 to January 2021. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for Renewing America. Follow him on Twitter @MarkPaoletta.