Trump leaves US guess­ing United States

Sunday Star-Times - - World -

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 be­came 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, is 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 has be­come the long­est in US his­tory as the stand­off be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Democrats in Congress drags on.


Dis­trict of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser cel­e­brates with en­gaged cou­ples af­ter sign­ing an or­der yes­ter­day that will al­low cou­ples to get mar­ried in the dis­trict de­spite the gov­ern­ment shut­down.

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