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Some Dems like Trump emergency declaration — at least as far as reopening government

Some House Democrats are endorsing the idea of President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE declaring a national emergency at the southern border to dissolve a partisan standoff about funding his border wall and end a weeks-long government shutdown.

The supportive Democrats are quick to emphasize they don’t believe the president has the legal authority to declare such an emergency, predicting the maneuver would quickly lead to lawsuits that they themselves would support.

But with both Trump and Democratic leaders holding firm in their positions — and the shutdown approaching its fourth week — the lawmakers increasingly view an emergency declaration as the quickest way to end the standoff and reopen the government.

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“Right now it looks like the only way out that people are talking about,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who represents a suburban district outside Washington that’s home to thousands of federal workers. “I’m eager to find another creative solution. I haven’t heard one.”

“I don’t know that he has the authority to do it — I will almost certainly join lawsuits to challenge his ability to do it,” Beyer continued. “But it does seem like a way for him to reopen the government and yet save face.

“And I’m not against him saving face.”

Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDemocrats debate fate of Trump probes if Biden wins Congress must repeal tax breaks for the wealthy passed in CARES Act COVID-19 and the problem of presidential succession MORE (D-Md.), who represents another Washington suburb, delivered a similar message. Raskin, a former law professor, doubted Trump has the power to divert the billions of dollars he wants for his border wall without the input of Congress, which has the constitutional power to direct federal spending.

“Any statutory emergency that could be claimed doesn’t seem to fit these circumstances,” Raskin said, referring to conditions on the ground at the border.

“But having said that,” Raskin continued, “I would much prefer if this whole debate over the wall were relocated from the political branches, where the president has been promising to hold his breath until his face turns blue, to the judicial branches, where we can have some kind of calm dissection of the actual circumstances on the ground at the border.”

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“If this is what it takes for the president to reopen the government of the United States, then most people will say, ‘So be it. Let him attempt his administrative emergency work-around to the Constitution and the Congress,’ he added.

“This might be the best of the bad lot in terms of the options left to us.”

But not all Democrats are on board. Many lawmakers argued Thursday that any move by the president to circumvent Congress’s power of the purse would set a terrible precedent for legislative negotiations moving forward.

And almost all Democrats have contested the idea that there is an emergency at all.

“It’s terrible for the democracy. This is not a kingdom, and … each time this happens we find ourselves adopting a worse practice,” said Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersCalifornia was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success Trump's illness sparks new urgency for COVID-19 deal Moderate Democrats push leadership to pull marijuana legislation MORE (D-Calif.). “It’s trending away from respect for the institution, and this is another example of that happening.”

Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair Dangerously fast slaughter speeds are putting animals, people at greater risk during COVID-19 crisis House Democrats subpoena private prison operator in forced hysterectomy case MORE (D-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said such a declaration would “just create a bigger problem.”

“First of all the statistics don’t say it’s a national emergency,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (D-Calif.) declined to weigh in on the idea Thursday.

“If and when the president does that you’ll find out how we will react,” Pelosi said.

But even some of the Democrats opposed to the emergency-declaration tactic expect Trump to take that step in an attempt to secure the $5.7 billion in border wall funding he’s seeking.

The president on Thursday visited McAllen, Texas, at the southern border, to observe the situation on the ground. And Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who represents a nearby district, predicted Trump will use the trip to justify an emergency order for the wall.

“He’s painted himself in a corner, and so he’ll probably … say, ‘I went down to the border, I saw this horrible situation, so I’m going to declare an emergency,’” Cuellar said.

“There’s going to be lawsuits all over the place,” Cuellar added. “Can he declare it? Yeah, he can. Will he be successful? No.”

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Although Republicans have been near universal in their support for Trump’s hardline demand for the wall funding throughout the 20-day shutdown, some GOP lawmakers have balked at the idea of Trump declaring an emergency to secure the funding without Congress — particularly when the proposal being floated by the administration would divert the funding from the Pentagon.

Perhaps attempting to assuage those GOP critics, the White House on Thursday began eying a new funding stream: the Army Corps of Engineers, including money earmarked to repair damages in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, according to NBC News.

The alternative funding plan could win over skeptical Republicans. But it’s sure to ignite a firestorm of opposition from Democrats, already critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

“He can’t be that crazy,” Cuellar said.