WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's administration has decided to shield the signature projects of White House adviser Ivanka Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as it looks to cancel billions of dollars in aid for other projects around the world, U.S. officials said.
In coming days, the White House is expected to send a proposal to Congress for returning billions of dollars of unspent foreign aid funds to the Treasury in a process known as rescission. Officials say they also will safeguard funding for global health programs.
Because U.S. aid agencies often do not designate funds until the end of a fiscal year, the White House could take back between $2 billion and $4 billion in foreign aid projects already approved by Congress for fiscal 2018 and 2019.
Senior Republicans and Democrats say the review threatens to undermine Congress' authority to appropriate funds, but U.S. officials insist they are only targeting projects that are unnecessary or of questionable value.
The Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a vast array of programs but has already ruled out canceling funds for Ivanka Trump's Women's Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, Pence's programs for Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in the Middle East, and global health programs during an outbreak of Ebola in Congo.
Aid advocates criticized the move for what they called an attempt to protect the pet projects of the president's inner circle.
"Our international affairs budget should go to the programs that save the most lives and go the furthest to make our planet safer -- not just the ones with the Trump name on them," said Scott Paul, the head of humanitarian policy at Oxfam America.
A senior U.S. official said it was appropriate for the White House to protect the programs it values most.
"Continuing to support Christians and other religious minorities as well as females across the world is something this administration has fought hard for and will continue to do," said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal has not been sent to Congress yet.
Officials pointed to programs they opposed such as a soccer camp in Guatemala, a space camp in Pakistan and solar panels in the Caribbean. They also said that if the money was so important for these programs, it already would have been spent.
Aid advocates say a number of factors explain why the funding hasn't been obligated in some accounts, such as a government shutdown and a delayed congressional appropriations process.
Several Republicans have said they principally oppose taking unspent money from programs already approved by Congress.
"The administration is coming back to Congress solely focused on one of the smallest parts of the federal budget -- not surgically -- but looking to cancel significant programs that impact our national security. It just doesn't make sense for U.S. interests," said Lester Munson, the former Republican staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who remains involved in foreign-policy matters, also said he opposed "going around Congress" and taking away funds appropriated for programs in the "Indo-Pacific, Africa and eastern Europe."
Another official said the president's interest in the rescission package stems from his opposition to aid for the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Trump has withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of aid from those countries, saying they must do more to reduce migrant flows into the United States.
Some lawmakers critical of the move said that some of the aid that could be affected is designed to improve conditions in those countries, where high murder rates have contributed to the exodus of people.
Meanwhile, Guatemala's president-elect said an immigration agreement signed with the Trump administration won't work because the Central American nation does not have the resources.
Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative who was chosen overwhelmingly by voters in a weekend runoff election, said in an interview Tuesday that Guatemala is too poor to tend to its own people, let alone those from other countries.
The agreement signed in July by the outgoing administration of President Jimmy Morales would require migrants from other countries who cross into Guatemala to apply for asylum there rather than in the U.S.
"In order to be a safe country, one has to be certified as such by an international body, and I do not think Guatemala fulfills the requirements to be a third safe country. That definition doesn't fit us," said Giammattei, a 63-year-old doctor.
"If we do not have the capacity for our own people, just imagine other people."
Information for this article was contributed by John Hudson and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post; and by Sonia Perez D. of The Associated Press.
A Section on 08/15/2019
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