President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE on Wednesday said he may declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress and build a border wall if spending talks fail, raising the stakes for negotiations set to resume later in the day.
“I think we might work a deal, and if we don’t we might go that route,” Trump told reporters during a bill signing in the Oval Office.
The president said he has the “absolute right” to declare an emergency, even though some legal scholars and Democratic lawmakers say he does not.
Trump added that his “threshold” for declaring a national emergency is if he cannot reach a deal with congressional Democrats, who have rejected his demand for $5.7 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The comments come one day after he argued to the nation in a televised addressed that a “humanitarian crisis” caused by drug trafficking and illegal immigration exists on the southern border and his proposed wall is the only thing that can stop it.
The president stopped short of declaring a national emergency, despite the expectation from some lawmakers that he would. But the White House on Wednesday reiterated that the option is still on the table.
Trump’s words did not move Democratic leaders who have repeated their demands that the president reopen the government before negotiations on border security can progress.
“It’s much harder to achieve a good negotiation while the government’s shut down,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHispanic organizations call for Latino climate justice in reconciliation Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act To Win 2022: Go big on reconciliation and invest in Latinx voters MORE (D-N.Y.) said at the Capitol. “The first order of business — we’ll continue to negotiate — the first order of business: Open up the government.”
Schumer and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSanders, Manchin escalate fight over .5T spending bill Sanders blames media for Americans not knowing details of Biden spending plan Photos of the Week: Climate protests, Blue Origin and a koala MORE (D-Calif.) will return to the White House later Wednesday to resume talks with Trump and his top staff.
Two such meetings last week yielded little progress in resolving the partial government shutdown, which is in its 19th day, but Trump expressed optimism about the talks.
“We’re all working together,” he said. “I really believe the Democrats and the Republicans are working together.”
But Pelosi earlier Wednesday accused the White House of changing its demands too many times in the shutdown battle, which began Dec. 22 after Trump rejected a deal worked out in the Senate that would have kept the government open until Feb. 8, buying time for more talks.
“The White House seems to move the goal posts. Every time they come with a proposal, they walk away from it. Pretty soon these goals posts won't even be in the stadium,” she said.
Complicating the president’s refusal to budge are wobbly Republicans in Congress who fear political blowback over effects of the shutdown, such as hundreds of thousands of federal workers who will soon miss their paychecks.
Trump on Wednesday afternoon is making a rare trip to Capitol Hill with Vice President Pence to shore up support among Senate Republicans, four of whom have publicly expressed reservations about the president’s strategy.
But Trump argued it would be more politically painful for him if he backs away from his demand for wall funding.
“If I did something that was foolish, like gave up on border security, the first ones that would hit me are my senators, they’d be angry at me. The second ones would be the House. And the third ones would be, frankly, my base,” he said.
Trump argued, however, that he did not shut down the government for political reasons, saying “this is not a fight I wanted. I didn’t want this fight.”
“This is about the people of our country, and we have to do what’s right at our border and many other places,” he said. "They say it's a medieval solution, a wall. It's true because it worked then and it works even better now."
Trump said last month in a televised Oval Office meeting with Schumer and Pelosi he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security,” comments Democrats have used to hammer the president over the funding impasse.
Several recent polls have shown most Americans blame Trump for the partial shutdown, while roughly one third blame congressional Democrats.
Updated at 2:17 p.m.