Trump eyes disaster bill, inches toward declaring emergency to build wall

President Trump on Thursday gave his strongest indication yet that he may declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress if he cannot reach a deal with Democrats on funding for his long-promised border wall.

Trump spent most of the day near the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, a visit many in Washington see as a precursor to an emergency declaration after talks with congressional leaders imploded the day before.

“Well, we can declare a national emergency. We shouldn’t have to because this is just common sense,” Trump told reporters on the banks of the Rio Grande River, flanked by border agents and piles of plastic-wrapped drugs seized at the frontier.

{mosads}But if talks don’t pick back up, Trump said, “then you will see what happens with national emergency, which I can do very easily and there’s no question it holds up.”

The White House is looking at $13.9 billion in funding approved by Congress last year as part of a disaster response bill to use for building Trump’s wall in the event he declares an emergency. That bill provided funding for various Army Corps of Engineers projects that has been allocated but not spent.

“I can tell you that’s definitely an option that has been presented to the president. Nothing has been finalized yet though,” said an administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Another administration official confirmed that option is under consideration, but said other plans are also being discussed.

The development was first reported by The Washington Post and NBC News.

Trump’s comments about the emergency declaration came as the partial government shutdown stretched into its 20th day. Back in the the nation’s capital, a last-ditch effort in the Senate to reach a deal to end the shutdown and pass immigration reforms quickly collapsed, leaving no end in sight to the spending impasse.

“I don’t know. That I can’t tell you,” Trump said when asked how long the shutdown will last.

In a sign the impasse could drag on for days, if not weeks, Trump announced on Twitter he had cancelled his planned trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland because of Democrats “intransigence on Border Security.” He was expected to leave for the summit on Jan. 21.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are set to begin missing paychecks by week’s end, raising concerns among congressional Republicans worried about the political fallout for their party.

But Trump sought to use his border visit to draw attention to what he says is a “crisis” of drug smuggling and illegal immigration at the border that he argues can only be stopped by a wall.

At the U.S. Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, the busiest sector of the border for illegal crossings, the president heard emotional accounts from relatives of two law enforcement officers who were killed by people living illegally in the U.S.

Trump hugged both after they were done speaking and then said, “politicians in Washington — they’ve never been here. They don’t know the first thing about what we’re talking about.”

He also mocked Democrats’ criticism of the wall, saying “they say a wall is medieval, well so is a wheel. A wheel is older than a wall.”

And Trump insisted he had the upper hand in the wall fight with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), even though several recent polls show the president bearing the majority of the blame.

“Nancy and Chuck know that. They’re not winning this argument, they’re losing the argument badly. They know it,” Trump said.

Parts of Trump’s border tour undercut his claim that the wall is essential to stopping drugs and illegal entries at the border.

A Customs and Border Protections (CBP) agent said a cache of drugs and guns sitting on tables in front of Trump at the station were mostly seized at legal ports of entry, not areas of the border that would be protected by a wall.

Another CBP officer showed a photograph of a tunnel that immigrants secretly dug under a segment of fencing near the border station.

Regardless, it appears Trump’s border visit did not move Democrats to give ground in the border-wall standoff.

The Democratic-led House moved ahead with legislation designed to reopen the government without Trump’s request for $5.7 billion in wall money.

A measure that would have funded the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development passed the House 244-180, with a dozen Republicans joining with Democrats voting in favor of it.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will not bring that bill as well as other funding measures to the floor for a vote.

A bipartisan group of senators tried to come up with a new solution on Thursday after talks between Trump and Democrats failed the day before, when the president stormed out of the room when Pelosi rejected his request for wall funding.

But the Senate talks quickly fell apart after the White House signaled it was not interested in a sweeping agreement involving the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for young people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

Trump said Thursday he wants the Supreme Court to decide a case on the legality of DACA instead of including it in wall negotiations, but later added confusion by telling reporters that “I would do it simultaneously” with the wall.

Still, hope for a major immigration deal appeared to be lost in the Senate, where Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared “I think we’re stuck. I just don’t see a pathway forward.”

Graham, an ally of Trump who was involved in the negotiations, later said in a statement he would back Trump if he declares a national emergency to jump start wall construction.

“It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier,” he said. “I hope it works.”

The emergency declaration could provide a window for the government to reopen while Trump begins building the wall using his unilateral authority, but the move is almost certain to draw a court challenge from those who say Trump lacks the power to make such a declaration.

Some Republicans have also urged Trump against declaring a national emergency due to concerns he could infringe on Congress’ power of the purse and set a bad precedent for future presidents.

There were signs Thursday that angst over the shutdown is beginning to grow, which could make Trump and lawmakers more eager to find some kind of off-ramp.

Hundreds of government workers protested in Washington, marching from the headquarters of the AFL-CIO labor group to the White House.

In Atlanta, Transportation Security Agency workers demonstrated at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The TSA is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, one of the agencies that has gone without funding since Dec. 22.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed to this story.



Tags Appropriations Border wall Budget Charles Schumer Donald Trump Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Shutdown

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