Na­tional emer­gency not yet in the cards


WASH­ING­TON • Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tamped down ex­pec­ta­tions that he is close to declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency to get the money he de­sires to build his long­promised U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der wall as a three-week im­passe clos­ing parts of the gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued on Fri­day.

Mean­while, some 800,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees, more than half still on the job, missed their first pay­cheque un­der a stop­page that tied a record for the long­est gov­ern­ment shut­down. With the clo­sure’s grow­ing im­pact on the econ­omy, na­tional parks and food in­spec­tions, some Repub­li­cans are be­com­ing un­com­fort­able with Trump’s de­mands.

Law­mak­ers tried to re­as­sure fed­eral em­ploy­ees that Congress was aware of the fi­nan­cial hard­ship they are en­dur­ing. By a vote of 411-7, the House passed a bill re­quir­ing that all gov­ern­ment work­ers re­ceive retroac­tive pay af­ter the par­tial shut­down ends. The Se­nate ap­proved the bill unan­i­mously Thurs­day. The pres­i­dent is ex­pected to sign the leg­is­la­tion.

Trump vis­ited McAllen, Texas, and the Rio Grande on Thurs­day to high­light what he calls a cri­sis of drugs and crime along the bor­der. He sug­gested that if he can­not reach an agree­ment with House Democrats on fund­ing the bor­der wall, he would de­clare a na­tional emer­gency.

But speak­ing to state and lo­cal lead­ers Fri­day, Trump said he wasn’t ready to do that just yet. He said law­mak­ers can also take that step, even though there’s no in­di­ca­tion they would.

The “easy so­lu­tion is for me to call a na­tional emer­gency ... but I’m not go­ing to do it so fast,” Trump said.

By­pass­ing Congress’ con­sti­tu­tional con­trol of the na­tion’s purse strings would lead to cer­tain le­gal chal­lenges and bi­par­ti­san charges of ex­ec­u­tive over­reach. Trump said his lawyers had told him the ac­tion would with­stand le­gal scru­tiny “100 per cent.”

Mean­while, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken steps to lay the ground­work should Trump is­sue the dec­la­ra­tion.

The White House has di­rected the Army Corps of Engi­neers to comb through its bud­get in search of money for the wall, in­clud­ing look­ing at US$13.9 bil­lion in un­spent dis­as­ter re­lief funds ear­marked for ar­eas in­clud­ing hur­ri­cane dam­aged Puerto Rico, Texas and more than a dozen other states. That’s ac­cord­ing to a con­gres­sional aide and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the re­quest.

Repub­li­can Rep. Mark Mead­ows, a law­maker with a close re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent, discounted that op­tion, say­ing it was not “un­der very se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion.”

De­fence Depart­ment of­fi­cials had al­ready been por­ing over data on more than US$10 bil­lion in mil­i­tary con­struc­tion projects to de­ter­mine how much of it would be avail­able for emer­gency spend­ing this year.


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