Pres­i­dent digs in at bor­der visit

Pres­i­dent sug­gests he’s likely to take emer­gency ac­tion

Daily Southtown - - FRONT PAGE - By Eli Stokols and Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske

As work­ers go un­paid, Trump sug­gests mak­ing emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion.

McALLEN, Texas — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump moved closer Thurs­day to declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency to by­pass Congress to se­cure funds for a bor­der wall and re­solve a gov­ern­ment shut­down now into its 20th day.

“I have the ab­so­lute right to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency,” Trump said to re­porters be­fore de­part­ing the White House for McAllen, where he toured Bor­der Pa­trol fa­cil­i­ties and met with agents along the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der.

“If this doesn’t work,” he said of get­ting Congress to in­clude wall money in its fi­nal gov­ern­ment-fund­ing bill, “prob­a­bly I will do it. I would al­most say def­i­nitely. This is a na­tional emer­gency.”

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say the move could al­low Trump to tap money al­ready ap­proved by Congress for other pur­poses, in­clud­ing funds for mil­i­tary con­struc­tion and dis­as­ter re­lief.

In­sist­ing he would pre­fer that Congress ap­prove $5.7 bil­lion he’s re­quested for the wall, Trump left some wig­gle room, but sig­naled that an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion is be­com­ing more likely. And al­ready-slim prospects for a deal with Congress seemed to evap­o­rate as Trump was in Texas.

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, at the Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton to con­fer with law­mak­ers over the im­passe, told re­porters the ad­min­is­tra­tion would not sup­port any com­pro­mise giv­ing le­gal pro­tec­tions to un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who years ago came to the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren. A bi­par­ti­san group had been ne­go­ti­at­ing a trade-off be­tween such pro­tec­tions and wall fund­ing, but by af­ter­noon Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R.-S.C., said a deal was all but dead, adding, “We’re kind of stuck.”

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell, R-Ky., re­buffed ef­forts by Democrats on Thurs­day to pass spend­ing bills that would re­open shut­tered gov­ern­ment agen­cies, in­clud­ing sev­eral that had noth­ing to do with bor­der se­cu­rity.

“It won’t solve the prob­lem be­cause the pres­i­dent has made clear he won’t sign them,” Mc­Connell said.

Trump, in re­marks at the White House as he de­parted for Texas, also put a new spin on the dis­crep­ancy be­tween his fa­mous, often-re­peated cam­paign prom­ise that Mex­ico would pay for a bor­der wall and the fact that Mex­ico is not do­ing so.

“When, dur­ing the cam­paign, I would say, ‘Mex­ico is go­ing to pay for it,’ ob­vi­ously, I never said this and I never meant they’re go­ing to write out a check,” the pres­i­dent said.

Trump did say it — at least 212 times dur­ing his cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton Post count, and dozens more since he took of­fice. And he put it in writ­ing — in a March 2016 memo to news out­lets and then posted to his cam­paign web­site.

Specif­i­cally, Trump threat­ened to cut off bil­lions of dol­lars in re­mit­tance pay­ments from Mex­i­can na­tion­als in the United States to fam­i­lies in their home coun­try. That, he pro­claimed, would pres­sure the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment to cough up “a one-time pay­ment of $5-10 bil­lion” for the wall.

Trump re­peated his more re­cent claim that Mex­ico would in­di­rectly pay for the wall through a new North Amer­i­can trade agree­ment. That agree­ment has yet to win leg­isla­tive ap­proval in Congress, Mex­ico or Canada and has no pro­vi­sion in it that would in­volve Mex­ico re­im­burs­ing the U.S. for the costs of a wall.

Trump’s com­ments and the visit to the bor­der came a day af­ter his White House meet­ing with con­gres­sional lead­ers ended abruptly, with the pres­i­dent walk­ing out of the room af­ter Demo­cratic lead­ers told him they did not plan on ap­prov­ing more money to fund a bor­der wall.

Although Democrats have ap­proved $1.3 bil­lion for bor­der se­cu­rity in the cur­rent fis­cal year, of the $1.6 bil­lion that Trump orig­i­nally asked for last year, the pres­i­dent has been un­able to per­suade them to now sup­port the $5.7 bil­lion de­spite his ar­gu­ment that con­di­tions have be­come a na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis.

In an­other sign that the shut­down that has closed a quar­ter of the gov­ern­ment could con­tinue for some time, Trump tweeted from Air Force One en route to Texas that he has de­cided not to at­tend the an­nual World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos, Switzer­land, which is less than two weeks away.

In McAllen, Trump was greeted by more than 1,000 demon­stra­tors, most of whom op­posed a wall. A few ex­pressed sup­port.

At a round ta­ble with aides and lo­cal of­fi­cials, the pres­i­dent sat be­fore a ta­ble dis­play­ing items said to have been seized by Bor­der Pa­trol agents — an AR-15 ri­fle, a plas­tic bag full of cash and black-taped bricks of heroin and metham­phetamine.

Like nearly all drugs traf­ficked across the bor­der, they were in­ter­cepted by agents at of­fi­cial ports of en­try, he was told, and not in the re­mote ar­eas where he wants to ex­tend tall bar­ri­ers.

Still, he de­clared: “A wall works. Noth­ing like a wall.”

Later, at a brief­ing along the bor­der, Trump told re­porters that Democrats “are los­ing the ar­gu­ment badly” and he is “win­ning” the shut­down fight, as he crit­i­cized Democrats for as­sert­ing he was man­u­fac­tur­ing a sense of cri­sis in or­der to de­clare an emer­gency. “What is man­u­fac­tured is the use of the word ‘man­u­fac­tured,’ ” Trump said.

Polls have shown that sig­nif­i­cantly more Amer­i­cans blame Trump for the shut­down while his pro­posed wall has con­sis­tently had mi­nor­ity sup­port, ex­cept among Repub­li­cans.

JIM WAT­SON/GETTY-AFP

Pres­i­dent Trump speaks up af­ter re­ceiv­ing a brief­ing on bor­der se­cu­rity Thurs­day near the Rio Grande in McAllen, Texas.

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