Bill on fed­eral work­ers’ back pay in shut­down heads to Trump

The Niagara Falls Review - - Canada & World - CATHERINE LUCEY, LISA MASCARO AND ZEKE MILLER

WASH­ING­TON — U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is edg­ing closer to declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency to pay for his long-promised U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der wall as pres­sure mounts to end the three-week im­passe that has closed parts of the gov­ern­ment and de­prived hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers of their salaries.

Some 800,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees, more than half still on the job, were due to miss their first pay­cheque Fri­day un­der a stop­page that neared 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 on Fri­day 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 was 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 said that “if for any rea­son we don’t get this go­ing” — an agree­ment with House Democrats who have re­fused to ap­prove the $5.7 bil­lion he de­mands for the wall — “I will de­clare a na­tional emer­gency.”

Trump was con­sult­ing with White House lawyers and oth­ers about us­ing emer­gency pow­ers to take ac­tion on his own, and over the ob­jec­tions of Congress, to con­struct the wall. 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.”

The wall was the cen­tral prom­ise of Trump’s win­ning cam­paign in 2016. Sup­port­ers have tried to con­vince him that an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion is the best op­tion to end the shut­down and would give him po­lit­i­cal cover to re­open the gov­ern­ment with­out ap­pear­ing to be cav­ing on his pledge. Trump, they ar­gue, could tell back­ers that he was do­ing all he could to fight for the wall, even if his or­der were held up or blocked in court. But not ev­ery­one in the ad­min­is­tra­tion is on board. Se­nior aide Jared Kush­ner, who trav­elled with the pres­i­dent to Texas, is among those urg­ing cau­tion on the dec­la­ra­tion, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with Kush­ner’s think­ing.

Trump is grow­ing more frus­trated as the shut­down drags on and is com­plain­ing that his aides are not of­fer­ing him an exit strat­egy. In the mean­time, 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 $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.

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

“If there’s a list of top 10 pri­or­i­ties on where to get money from, that doesn’t make the top 10 list,” Mead­ows said.

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

On Fri­day, of­fi­cials in Puerto Rico said di­vert­ing dis­as­ter money to the wall was “un­ac­cept­able” and that the is­land was strug­gling to re­cover from hur­ri­cane Maria, the Cat­e­gory 4 storm that hit more than a year ago and caused more than $100 bil­lion in dam­age.

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