Will Trump declare an emergency tonight? Only he knows for sure

The White House is playing coy over whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpPresenting the 2020 Democratic bracket The time has come for the Democrats to act, finally DHS expedites border wall replacement in Arizona, Texas MORE will declare a national emergency in a prime-time address to the nation Tuesday that would allow construction of a wall on the Mexican border to move forward.

Trump previewed his remarks to a group of broadcast and cable-news anchors over a lunch of Caesar salad and chicken in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, but aides said he did not reveal any plans to take the controversial step of declaring a national emergency.

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“He is not giving a likelihood. He is not saying yes or no. But he’s made very clear to you and the public last week that he is considering it,” White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayGeorge Conway lashes out at 'Deranged Donald' on Twitter The Hill's Morning Report - Trump tells House investigators 'no' Hillicon Valley: Facebook expects up to B FTC fine | DHS face scanning at airports sparks alarm | New Twitter tool targets election misinformation | Lawmakers want answers on Google 'Sensorvault' MORE told reporters after the lunch ended.

Conway, who said she has seen a draft of the speech, suggested Trump instead prefers to use his address to persuade Democrats, who vehemently oppose the wall, to return to the bargaining table to work out a budget deal that includes $5.7 billion in funding for the barrier.

“Why let Congress off the hook yet again?” she said.

The address comes at a pivotal moment for Trump, who is beginning to feel the effects of an 18-day partial government shutdown triggered by his demands for wall funding.

Federal workers will soon miss their first paychecks, and some Republicans in Congress have expressed misgivings about Trump's strategy, fearing the fallout could inflict political damage on their party.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday showed 51 percent of Americans believe Trump deserves most of the blame for the shutdown, up 4 percentage points from last month.

Roughly one-third say congressional Democrats are to blame and 7 percent blame congressional Republicans.

Democrats have signaled they expect Trump to declare a national emergency to build the wall, either tonight or soon after, because days of negotiations have yet to yield significant progress toward resolving the dispute.

“That could be the exit ramp that would enable him to say, ‘Look, I’m still 100 percent in favor of the wall. We’re going to build it, but we’re just going to use a different method. Therefore, I don’t need Congress, therefore we don’t need the shutdown,’ ” Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSanders, Klobuchar among five most popular senators: poll Overnight Energy: Trump moves to crack down on Iranian oil exports | Florida lawmakers offer bill to ban drilling off state's coast | Bloomberg donates .5M to Paris deal Florida lawmakers offer bill to ban drilling off state's coast MORE (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, said Tuesday on NPR.

The declaration would allow Trump to redirect military construction funds from other projects toward building the wall.

Democrats have warned Trump, however, that declaring a national emergency won’t encourage them to restart negotiations and it will likely trigger a legal challenge that could further delay wall construction.

“It is analogous to governments that we have seen all over the world declaring martial law, and justifying them in doing whatever they wanted to do to whomever they wanted to do it, whenever they wanted to do it,” said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money: House to vote on bipartisan retirement bill in May | Mexico now biggest US trading partner | Mulvaney defends record on cutting spending Overnight Energy: Trump officials halt plans to expand offshore drilling | Giraffes move closer to endangered species protections | Renewable energy groups look to protect research funding | House to vote on climate bill next week House eyes vote on reversing Mulvaney efforts to rein in consumer bureau MORE (D-Md.).

The No. 2 House Democrat called the threat of a national emergency another effort by Trump to scare the public in order to justify his demands for wall funding.

“There is no crisis, there is no invasion, there is no clear and present danger as the president would try to convey to the American people — to scare them and to justify actions otherwise not justified,” he said.

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPresenting the 2020 Democratic bracket Some Dem chairmen have changed tune on Trump impeachment On The Money: House to vote on bipartisan retirement bill in May | Mexico now biggest US trading partner | Mulvaney defends record on cutting spending MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage MORE (D-N.Y.) will deliver a televised rebuttal of Trump’s speech, in which they would be forced to quickly counter Trump if he declares an emergency.

They also plan to push back against any potentially false arguments for the wall Trump might make to a national audience.

The White House on Tuesday was forced to admit that its claim that 4,000 known or suspected terrorists crossed into the U.S. last year was misleading, since only a dozen entered via the southern border.

“Now that the television networks have decided to air the president’s address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime,” the two Democratic leaders said in a statement.

On the other hand, Trump might stop short of such an announcement and use his speech to accuse Democrats of refusing to address what his administration calls a “crisis” of illegal immigration and drug smuggling on the southern border while presenting himself as the person looking for solutions.

“We expect him to lay out the case why this is a humanitarian and national security crisis that needs to be urgently address. This format will allow him to humanize the issue, so people can see the real human cost the border crisis has,” said a House GOP leadership aide who was briefed on Trump's plans.

Fox News anchor Brett Baier said on air after the lunch with Trump that the White House believes the president is in a position of power in the wall fight because it motivates Republicans and the president's base voters. 

Trump will continue that effort on Thursday during a trip to the border town of McAllen, Texas, ramping up the use of his bully pulpit on the wall in a way some of his supporters wish he would have done weeks ago when the shutdown began.

Still, Trump might be tempted to declare an emergency because it could provide the type of dramatic moment he craves in a fight that motivates his base while providing an off-ramp for Republicans who have grown weary of the shutdown battle.

Vice President Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenDems launch probe into 'unprecedented' Trump firings at Homeland Security Democratic Party chief: Trump is 'compromised' Hillicon Valley: Facebook expects up to B FTC fine | DHS face scanning at airports sparks alarm | New Twitter tool targets election misinformation | Lawmakers want answers on Google 'Sensorvault' MORE and acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought are huddling with House Republicans at 5:30 p.m. to urge them to stick by the president.

Media figures on the right who have the president’s ear have urged him to declare an emergency.

“I’m guessing he’s going to declare a national emergency,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said Monday during his radio show.

It was pressure from the conservative media that helped persuade Trump to renege on a bipartisan spending deal last month that would have funded the government but did not include wall funding.

While many of the president’s allies would cheer an emergency declaration, it has raised concern among some key Republicans who worry the president might overstep his authority.

“In short, I’m opposed to using defense dollars for non-defense purposes,” said House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Air Force general tapped for Pentagon No. 2 | Dem presses Trump officials on Yemen strike | Pentagon details 4M border deployment cost Top Armed Services Republican: 'I don't think anybody is satisfied' with Space Force proposal Top senators warn Turkey: Choose between Russia missile system or US fighter jet MORE (R-Texas).

Mike Lillis, Rebecca Kheel and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.