McALLEN, Texas — President Donald Trump moved closer Thursday to declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress and secure funds for a border wall and resolve a government shutdown now approaching the end of its third week.
“I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,” the president told reporters before departing the White House for McAllen, Texas, where he toured Border Patrol facilities and met with agents along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Administration officials say the declaration could allow him to tap money already approved by Congress for other purposes, including for military construction and disaster relief.
The Washington Post, citing two unnamed sources, said one of the possibilities the White House is looking at is unused money for the Army Corps of Engineers — specifically a $13.9 billion spending bill passed by Congress last year to address local flood control projects and the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Wilma.
That appears to be the same bill that unlocked tens of millions in federal funds to help construct a flood protection system in Cedar Rapids.
If Trump does declare a national emergency, it was unclear late Thursday if or how that would impact the Cedar Rapids flood control project — an effort begun more than a decade ago after the historic flood of 2008 caused more than $5 billion in damages and losses in the city.
Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz had just heard the news Thursday evening. He plans to check in with Iowa’s delegation, as well as Cedar Rapids federal lobbyist David Karnes, to learn more.
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A spokesman for Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said the office would check into it also. A representative for Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst could not be reached for comment.
Even if that Army Corps appropriation is looked at for unspent money, it’s not clear money designated for the Cedar Rapids project still would be available.
In November, Cedar Rapids and Army Corps officials signed a partnership agreement to allow construction to begin and federal funds to flow.
Congress approved $117.48 million for flood protection on the east side of the Cedar River. The city would be responsible for 35 percent.
“We have five years, and the clock is already started,” Col. Steven Sattinger, commander of the Rock Island District of the Army Corps, said then. “We are going to be done on time. That is our commitment to you.”
Trump has urged the Army Corps to determine how fast contracts for a border wall could be signed and whether construction could begin within 45 days, the Post reported, citing one of the unnamed sources.
The president flew to the Texas border with Mexico to try to bolster his case for the border wall as a partial U.S. government shutdown tied to the issue stretched into its 20th day with no sign of new talks to resolve the impasse.
In Texas, Trump focused on stories told by tearful family members of people killed by illegal immigrants, and was shown plastic-wrapped bricks of heroin, bales of marijuana, guns and a bag cash seized by border agents.
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Trump says undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs are streaming across the border, despite statistics that show illegal immigration there is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments likely are smuggled through legal ports of entry.
A presidential emergency declaration would be a way out of the impasse, but is sure to trigger immediate legal challenges over constitutional powers from congressional Democrats — a challenge Trump predicted he would win.
The Republican president is adamant that a government funding bill to end the shutdown include $5.7 billion for a border barrier — his signature campaign promise. Congressional Democrats oppose that.
The standoff has left a quarter of the federal government closed and hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay — including immigration officers Trump met with at the border.
The House passed two bills to fund the departments of transportation, housing and agriculture — each drawing a few more Republican votes than a similar effort Wednesday to reopen the Treasury Department and other agencies.
But the White House has said Trump would veto the bills if they made it to his desk.
Reuters, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and B.A. Morelli and James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.