by Burgess Everett · January 10, 2019
The president signals he may take extreme action to achieve his campaign promise.
President Donald Trump on Thursday gave the strongest signal yet that he will declare a national emergency in an effort to secure billions of dollars for a border wall, as negotiations on Capitol Hill to reopen the federal government continue to flounder.
The possible move by Trump would almost certainly trigger an immediate response from House Democratic leaders, who could pursue both congressional and legal avenues to try to halt such unprecedented action. It’s one of the few options left at the table after Trump rejected the work of Senate Republicans hoping they can craft a procedural framework that would allow the government to reopen and then immediately turn to an immigration debate.
An emergency declaration by Trump could also end the partial government shutdown if congressional leaders agree to reopen shuttered agencies and let the border wall drama play out in the courts.
“If we don’t make a deal with Congress, most likely I will do that. I would actually say I would,” Trump told Sean Hannity in an interview at the southern border that aired Thursday night on Fox News. “I can’t imagine any reason why not,” he said, adding that “we are going to see what happens over the next few days.”
Earlier, the president told reporters outside the White House on his way to McAllen, Texas, that he had an “absolute right” to declare the emergency.
Vice President Mike Pence closed off the move by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other GOP senators to come up with an agreement to end the shutdown, showing how hard it is to get the White House on the same page as other Republicans. Pence publicly shot down the idea and also privately relayed to Senate Republicans that Trump will not reopen the government until he gets a solution on the wall.
Graham said he was “depressed” by the move, but then later endorsed the idea of Trump declaring a national emergency even after raising questions of whether Congress would vote to disapprove of such a move.
“It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier. I hope it works,” he said in a statement.
But not all Republicans are supportive of the idea.
“I would advise against that as a bad precedent,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
During a visit to the border, Trump told reporters that he would be open to a larger deal on immigration that would help young immigrants — “We want to help the Dreamers,” he said — though he declined to link it directly to reopening the government.
“But I would like to do a much broader form of immigration, and we could do immigration reform, it’ll take longer, it’s been complex, it’s been going on for 30, 35 years, talking about immigration reform,” Trump said. “Before we do that, we have to create a barrier. That we can do very quickly.”
Graham and a small group of Senate GOP colleagues pitched getting the congressional committees to work on a potential trade — Democrats agree to billions of dollars in funding for Trump’s border wall in exchange for temporary protections for immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status. Under that idea, the government would have reopened while Congress fights out the wall battle.
But Democrats were never read in on the proposal, and Pence signaled Trump wouldn’t go along with it either.
“I think the president feels that we’re waiting to hear from the Supreme Court about DACA,” Pence told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday afternoon. “We’re confident the Supreme Court will find DACA to have been unconstitutional. And at that time, [Trump] believes there will be an opportunity for us not only to address the issue affecting the Dreamers, but also a broader range of immigration issues.”
Pence reiterated that there must be money for Trump’s wall project in an agreement to fund the government: “No wall, no deal.”
Indeed, negotiations on Capitol Hill remain at a near standstill with the shutdown nearing its fourth week – which would make it the longest ever – and 800,000 federal workers on Friday due to miss their first paycheck since the stalemate began.
Senators began heading home on Thursday afternoon after Graham’s effort fell apart, though leaders were trying to get some Republicans to stick around to man the Senate if needed. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) lodged a private objection to the Senate adjourning right before workers miss their first paychecks tomorrow.
Later Thursday, the Senate passed a bill to provide backpay to federal workers impacted by the shutdown. McConnell said the president told him he would sign the bill.
Some lawmakers now believe an emergency declaration is the only way to exit what has become an intractable conflict.
“I could see it coming to that. I don’t think it’s legal. I think it will be challenged in court,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “But it might be the only way out.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday wouldn’t say how Democrats would respond if Trump did declare a national emergency. But House Democrats have already started to examine what options they have, both in the courts and on Capitol Hill, according to multiple sources.
“If and when the president does that you’ll find out how we would react,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “But I’m not going to that place now.”
If Trump did order the emergency declaration, House Democrats would wait to see what the Senate response is in terms of reopening the government. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly stated he will only bring up bills that have the support of the president.
The House on Thursday continued passing piecemeal funding bills to keep pressure on House Republicans growing uneasy with rippling effects of the prolonged stalemate. A handful of Republicans are voting with Democrats on legislation to reopen the government on measures like providing food stamps and farmer aid.
McConnell objected on Thursday to a Democratic effort to bring up House-passed bills funding the government.
“It’s been perfectly clear that the only way to produce this result is for the president, the speaker of the House and the minority leader to agree,” McConnell said. He then asked Democrats whether they will shut down all Senate business while the government is shuttered as Democrats prepared to filibuster a foreign policy bill over the funding lapse.
Trump may now turn to an emergency declaration. Multiple House committees could have jurisdiction over the legality of Trump’s emergency declaration, including the Appropriations, Armed Services, Transportation and Judiciary panels and staffers have already started looking into the issue, according to several Democratic sources.
Pelosi said the emergency declaration was just another way for the president to distract from mounting legal troubles related to the special counsel’s Russia investigation and other controversies enveloping the administration.
“I don’t think he really wants a solution. I think he wants the distraction that this is from his other problems,” Pelosi said. “I think he’s going to have to answer to his own party in usurping that much power.”
Indeed, Republicans are also uneasy about the possibility that Trump declares a national emergency, a move many of them consider a huge executive branch overreach and something they frequently criticized former President Barack Obama for.
There is speculation in both the House and Senate that the administration may not use military construction funding, as was recently floated, but instead rely on federal dollars approved by Congress for water resource development projects.
That could lead to fewer objections from Republicans, many of whom don’t like the idea of Trump declaring an emergency for the border wall, much less using military funds to do so. But not every Republican is on board.
“I would question the president’s ability to do that. He probably does have [authority], but I would question the wisdom of doing that,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who is the ranking Republican on the spending panel that oversees Army Corps funding.
Sarah Ferris and Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.
Politico · by Burgess Everett · January 10, 2019