Government

Trump backs away from declaring border emergency

Such a move could jeopardize funds for disaster recovery

President Donald Trump shows a photo Friday of a “typical” border wall design during a “roundtable discussion on border security and safe communities” with state, local and community leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
President Donald Trump shows a photo Friday of a “typical” border wall design during a “roundtable discussion on border security and safe communities” with state, local and community leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he would not declare a national emergency “right now” to end a standoff over border wall funding that has idled large swaths of the government, ensuring the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

The dispute has disrupted everything from air travel to tax collection and suspended paychecks for 800,000 government workers.

Trump repeatedly has described the situation at the U.S.- Mexico border as a “humanitarian crisis” and only a day earlier told Fox News that he would “most likely” declare a national emergency over it.

That would allow him, his administration says, to scoop up billions for a border wall from previously approved military and natural disaster projects — perhaps even from the millions of federal dollars approved but not yet spent on a permanent flood control system for Cedar Rapids.

Democrats, who say the barrier would be barbaric and ineffective, have refused to meet his demand for $5.7 billion and almost surely would file lawsuits challenging a national emergency declaration from him.

“I have the absolute right to do it,” Trump insisted at a White House event Friday on border security. “But I’m not going to do it so fast. Because this is something Congress should do.”

The president’s more tempered statements are reflective of the sharp pushback — even from fellow Republicans — he had received over the notion of declaring an emergency if he does not otherwise get his way.

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“I think the president should not do it,” Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley 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.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi mocked the president as she told reporters it was up to him to make the next move. “Let’s give him time to think it through.” she said. “Think? Did I say think?”

The House held its final votes of the week Friday, including on a measure to ensure that federal workers who are furloughed receive back pay once the government reopens. The bill, which Thursday passed the Senate, now goes to Trump. Vice President Mike Pence said Trump will sign it into law.

“Your families will get your paychecks,” he told U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

Separately, nine Republican senators including Grassley introduced legislation that would permanently outlaw closing government operations during budget fights, underscoring the growing frustration.

“It costs money to shut down the government and it costs more money to reopen it,” Grassley said in a statement. “When the government shuts down, Americans are deprived of essential services and their tax dollars are needlessly wasted.”

With Congress adjourned for the weekend, precluding any action for now, the shutdown will reach the 21-day mark today and become the longest in U.S. history.

During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged that Mexico would pay for a border wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs.

The Mexican government has refused and Trump now is demanding that Congress do it.

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“They can name it ‘peaches.’ I don’t care what they name it. But we need money for that barrier,” Trump said.

Reuters and the Washington Post contributed to this report.

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