Trump leaves US guessing
US President Donald Trump has cast fresh doubt on whether he will declare a national emergency to build a wall along the border with Mexico, leaving lawmakers waiting for the president’s next move as the government shutdown is poised to become the longest in US history.
‘‘What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,’’ Trump said yesterday, surrounded by law enforcement officials at a White House meeting. ‘‘I’m not going to do it so fast.’’
Trump reasserted his right to build border walls via an emergency declaration, a move that would bypass a deadlocked Congress in which Democrats have blocked any new wall money. But he said he wanted to give lawmakers more time to act, and did not offer a timetable for a decision.
The comments marked a shift from earlier remarks, when Trump appeared to be on the brink of declaring a national emergency. He has said repeatedly in recent days that he might do so, and his administration had asked agencies to begin preparations.
Lawmakers from both parties had speculated that a national emergency declaration could clear the way for an end to the shutdown that, at 22 days long today, would become the lengthiest the nation has ever endured.
Before the shutdown and since, Trump has floated numerous strategies and potential solutions, only to backtrack within days, hours or even minutes – making it unclear whether his stance yesterday would hold, or for how long. But for now, his apparent retreat on the emergency declaration leaves the impasse in place, with no obvious way to resolve it and no real efforts under way to do so.
The Senate adjourned for the weekend on Friday and House lawmakers left town yesterday, with no new negotiations scheduled.
Large parts of the federal government have been without funding since December 22, and the partial shutdown’s effects have multiplied as the lapse has dragged on.
Yesterday marked the first missed paycheque for many of the approximately 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed or working without compensation.
The White House has scrambled to find ways to keep the partially shuttered government functioning, a rapidly shifting and often improvised process that has seen the administration reverse past precedents and enter into legally murky territory.
Prominent Republicans yesterday expressed alarm that Trump might try to divert funds from disaster-recovery projects in places such as Texas and use it to build the border wall. Texas Senator John Cornyn said he vigorously opposed using any of the money that had been appropriated by Congress to clean up damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello also strongly objected to the idea of diverting money intended for mitigation work after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017.
Trump’s lawyers have privately warned the president that he could be on shaky footing with an emergency declaration, according to people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
With a White House decision in flux, Congress made no progress toward a deal.
The Democratic-led House held its final votes of the week yesterday, including on a measure to ensure that federal workers who are furloughed or working without compensation receive back pay once the government reopens.
The bill, which passed the Senate on Friday, now goes to Trump for his signature. But it will do nothing to provide immediate help for the federal employees who are going unpaid, and the thousands of federal contractors who have also been affected by the shutdown may never recoup their losses.
The House also passed another bill that would reopen more shuttered government departments – but it had already been declared dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate because of a veto threat from Trump.
Amid the stalemate, the White House has been laying the groundwork for a declaration of a national emergency to build Trump’s border wall, eyeing various pots of unused money, including funds in the US Army Corps of Engineers budget that had been directed toward flood control projects in areas affected by recent natural disasters. Democrats have condemned the approach.
‘‘What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency. I’m not going to do it so fast.’’ US President Donald Trump
Government workers and their supporters in Boston protest against the US government shutdown, which was today set to become the longest in US history as the standoff between President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress drags on.