The Memo: Trump moves to brink of emergency declaration

It is more likely than ever that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE will declare a national emergency at the border — and that’s just fine with some of his most fervent supporters.

Stephen Bannon, the president's former chief strategist, told The Hill that Trump “wins politically and practically — he uses his powers as a ‘forcing function’ ” if he makes an emergency declaration.

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But such a move would set off a firestorm of criticism from Democrats, and legal challenges would be all but guaranteed.

Critics argue Trump would be overstepping his powers in an effort to circumvent Congress. They also condemn his rigidity in demanding funds for a southern border wall as the price for reopening the government.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisDebate commission adding option to cut candidates' mics: report Debates panel says changes under consideration 'to ensure a more orderly discussion' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Country reacts to debate night of mudslinging MORE (D-Calif.), a likely 2020 presidential candidate, said on ABC’s "Good Morning America” earlier this week that “there is no question that we will litigate” if Trump were to make an emergency declaration. Harris added that the situation was “an emergency of his own creation.”

Still, the emergency strategy would give Trump an escape route from the partial government shutdown that is affecting about 800,000 federal workers and shows no sign of being resolved anytime soon.

Even some Republicans who are less simpatico than Bannon with Trump’s hard line on a border wall see an emergency declaration as a politically astute move.

“The effort to declare border security a national emergency is a way to win the battle while avoiding losing the war over the shutdown,” said one GOP strategist with ties to the White House.

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Absent such a declaration, the strategist saw turbulent waters ahead for Trump.

“Once federal workers fail to receive their paychecks and low-income housing families begin to get kicked out of their homes, the headlines are going to be very negative,” the source said. “The velocity of headlines coming out is going to be so ferocious. It is going to peel off Republicans, and Trump is going to feel a lot of pressure.”

Matt Gorman, a former communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said, “I think the national emergency seems the best way for the president and Republicans to call it a win and reopen the government.”

Thousands of federal workers had been due to receive pay checks on Friday. They will not and may have to wait another two weeks before being paid — if the shutdown is resolved in the interim, which is not certain.

If the situation continues into Saturday, it will be the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history.

Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday morning he would “almost say definitely” he would declare a national emergency if efforts to reach an agreement with Democrats in Congress were not successful.

Later, during a visit to the border in Texas, Trump told reporters his administration would win the legal fights that would inevitably ensue.

“Somebody would sue to stop it, but we would win that suit I believe very quickly,” the president said.

The odds of a congressional deal are becoming more remote by the day.

On Wednesday, Trump walked out of a White House meeting with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse On The Money: 'One more serious try' on COVID relief yields progress but no deal | Trump tax bombshell shines light on IRS enforcement | Senate passes bill to avert shutdown hours before deadline 'One more serious try' on COVID-19 relief yields progress but no deal MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerFirst woman sentenced for her role in Nxivm sex cult Ocasio-Cortez calls Trump a 'white supremacist' after debate Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE (D-N.Y.), saying “bye-bye” as he did so. Schumer afterward told reporters Trump had a “temper tantrum.”

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamComey defends FBI Russia probe from GOP criticism The Hill's Campaign Report: Debate fallout l Trump clarifies remarks on Proud Boys l Down to the wire in South Carolina Poll finds Trump, Biden in statistical dead heat in South Carolina MORE (R-S.C.) added his voice to those calling on Trump to declare a national emergency after attempts to find a compromise came to nothing.

Graham pinned the blame on Pelosi for the lack of progress.

The Speaker has been staunch in her refusal to concede ground to Trump in his demand for more than $5 billion to construct new stretches of barrier along the border. Last week, Pelosi called a border wall an “immorality.”

In his statement, Graham said Pelosi’s refusal to support a wall “virtually ends the congressional path to funding for a border wall/barrier.”

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

Meanwhile, The Hill reported that the White House is looking at $13.9 billion in funding approved by Congress last year 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.

The chief downside with the national emergency gambit, from Trump’s perspective, is that it provides no guarantee that new stretches of wall or fence at the border would ever actually be built. Court challenges could potentially last for years — long enough for the issue to be rendered moot if Trump were to lose his bid for reelection in 2020, for example.

The president would also face allegations that he was engaging in a power grab.

Even some Republicans have expressed misgivings.

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerRestaurants brace for long COVID-19 winter The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns MORE (R-Miss.) said on Wednesday it would be “a mistake” for Trump to use the tactic. Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Romney undecided on authorizing subpoenas for GOP Obama-era probes Congress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery MORE (R-Ohio) said, “It's a much wiser idea to negotiate something out, because if it's done it will be tied up in the courts for a long time, and it would not be successful in achieving the objective.”

But with no sign of such negotiations being successful, Bannon was bullish on the overall prospects of success.

“He can declare the national security emergency and get on with it,” the former chief strategist said. “If done correctly, I’m not sure the courts can ultimately stop this. The National Emergencies Act of 1976, I don't believe has been tested for its constitutionality.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.