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 hurricanedamaged 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.