As shutdown drags, Trump waffles on emergency call
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday threw cold water on the idea of immediately declaring a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.Mexico border, reversing days of signals that he might soon declare the emergency amid a protracted standoff with Democrats over a partial shutdown of the federal government.
“What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” he said Friday afternoon, surrounded by law enforcement officials at a White House roundtable. “I’m not going to do it so fast.”
The president has said for days he might declare a national emergency to expedite construction of the wall — and his administration has asked agencies to begin preparations.
But he has gotten sharp pushback, even from Republicans, at the notion of declaring such an emergency. His lawyers have privately warned that he could be on shaky footing with such a move, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The House broke for the weekend Friday, ensuring that the partial government shutdown would become the longest in U.S. history.
The Democratic-led House held its final votes of the week Friday, including on a measure to ensure that furloughed federal workers receive back pay when the government reopens.
The bill, which was approved 411-7 and passed the Senate on Thursday, now goes to Trump for his signature. All those who opposed it were Republicans.
The House also passed another bill that would reopen more shuttered gov-
ernment departments — but it was already declared dead on arrival in the GOPcontrolled Senate because of a veto threat from Trump.
The bill passed 240-179, with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in the chamber supporting it.
About 800,000 workers missed a paycheck Friday as the impasse between Trump and Democrats stretched into its 21st day.
On Friday, there were no signs of serious negotiations, and leaders of both chambers announced no plans to meet before Monday.
With polls showing Trump getting most of the blame for the shutdown, the administration accelerated planning to try to get around Congress and fund the wall from existing sources of federal revenue.
The White House explored diverting money for wall construction from a range of other accounts. One idea considered was diverting some of the $13.9 billion allocated to the Army Corps of Engineers after last year’s deadly hurricanes and floods.
That option triggered an uproar in Puerto Rico, which is still rebuilding, and appeared to lose steam Friday.
Other possibilities included tapping asset forfeiture funds, including money seized by the Department of Justice from drug kingpins, according to a congressional Republican not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
The White House also was eyeing military construction funds, another politically difficult choice because the money would be diverted from a backlog of hundreds of projects at bases around the U.S.
Despite Trump’s go-slow message, momentum grew in some corners for some sort of emergency declaration. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who met with the president on Friday, took to Twitter afterward to urge: “Mr. President, Declare a national emergency NOW. Build a wall NOW.”
But the notion of declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress has divided Republicans, some of whom see it as an encroachment on congressional authority.
“I think the president should not do it,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Friday. “I think as a member of Congress I ought to be very selfish about the constitutional powers that we have to appropriate money. I think it might be a bad precedent.”
Trump has told advisers he believes the fight for the wall — even if it never yields the requested funding — is a political win for him.
But some of his outside advisers have urged him to declare a national emergency, believing it would have two benefits: First, it would allow him to claim that he was the one to act to reopen the government.
Second, inevitable legal challenges would send the matter to court, allowing Trump to continue the fight for the wall — and excite his supporters — while not closing the government or requiring him to start construction.
Many Democrats say they have little reason to give into Trump’s demand for border wall funding since winning the House in the midterm elections.
Associated Press contributed.