President digs in at border visit
President suggests he’s likely to take emergency action
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.
President Trump speaks up after receiving a briefing on border security Thursday near the Rio Grande in McAllen, Texas.