President Donald Trump on Sunday again threatened to declare a national emergency as a means to construct his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying he would first gauge the results of upcoming negotiations to end a partial government shutdown triggered by partisan debate over his signature campaign promise.
“I may decide a national emergency depending on what happens over the next few days,” Trump told reporters as he exited the White House en route to Camp David, according to a pool report.
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“We have to build the wall or we have to build the barrier. The barrier or the wall can be of steel instead of concrete if that works better,” the president said.
Trump’s insistence on a border wall, which has prompted the shutdown, comes as the newly Democratic-controlled House asserts its power. Last week, the House passed legislation that would reopen the federal government. In addition to trying to fund the government without giving the president his border wall, House Democrats are also signaling that they’re ready to go after him in other ways, including requiring that he release his tax returns and providing transcripts of congressional testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller for the Russia investigation.
As top congressional aides prepare for another round of talks Sunday afternoon to end the shutdown, now in its 16th day, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders affirmed Trump’s position that he would go around Congress to fulfill his promise to fund a border wall, telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace that Trump was “prepared to do what it takes to protect our borders.”
But Democrats appeared to disagree Sunday on whether the president actually had the authority to build a wall without congressional approval under the premise of a national emergency.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Democratic Armed Services Committee, acknowledged that Trump had the authority to do so, but said he would likely be met with a lawsuit.
“There is a provision in law that says the president can declare an emergency,” Smith said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “In this case, I think the president would be wide open to a court challenge saying, where is the emergency? You have to establish that in order to do this.”
But Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, disagreed.
“I make of that really threatening talk from the president that he doesn’t have the power to execute,” Schiff said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “Look, if Harry Truman couldn’t nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn’t have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border. So, that’s a nonstarter.”
According to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, there were 396,579 arrests along the southwestern border in fiscal year 2018 — lower than the average number of 400,751 over the previous decade. The number of border arrests in 2018 was higher than in 2017, when there were 303,916 arrests.
If Trump were to build a wall under the premise of a national emergency, it would likely be challenged in court, similar to his other immigration policies, including his asylum ban.
Liberal groups were already quick to dismiss the notion that the president had the legal authority to declare a national emergency to fund the wall.
“What Trump is proposing is illegal, plain and simple,” the left-leaning Center for American Progress said in a memo sent to reporters Sunday. “It would be a flagrant abuse of military power and his most direct assault on the separation of powers and democracy to date.”
But some agree with Trump that a national emergency exists.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks lower levels of immigration, said in a text on Sunday that “the emergency is the major, growing influx of people who have heard about the catch and release policies for those arriving with children and claiming fear of return, and the inability of Congress to respond.”
Trump on Sunday also reiterated his arguments for the building of the wall and argued without supporting evidence that many of the government workers who are not receiving their paychecks are supportive of what he is doing.
“This is a very important battle to win from the standpoint of safety, No. 1, defining our country and who we are,” he said. “Also from the standpoint of dollars. This wall will pay for itself many times through the course of the year.”
The president’s remarks came as Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff, said on CNN that Cabinet secretaries had been instructed to look for money within their budgets that could be used to pay for the wall. Mulvaney said he had “been working with all the Cabinet secretaries to try and find money that we can legally use to defend the southern border.”
Trump first signaled in a Friday news conference that he would consider using his emergency powers to bypass Congress and begin construction on the wall.
“Absolutely, we could call a national emergency because of the security of our county,” the president told reporters assembled in the Rose Garden at the White House.
“I haven’t done it. I may do it. I may do it. But we could call a national emergency and build it very quickly,” Trump said Friday, adding that he would prefer to acquire funding for the wall “through a negotiated process” with congressional lawmakers in a deal that would bring an end to the shutdown.
Although Trump administration and congressional aides met Saturday to discuss a solution to the partial government shutdown, little progress has been made and Congress remains out until Tuesday. Despite the absence of a deal, Mulvaney reiterated to Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the president was willing to give up his concrete wall.
“If he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, ‘See? He’s not building a wall anymore,’ that should help us move in the right direction,” Mulvaney said. When asked about Mulvaney’s comments, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told “Meet the Press” that “it is an offer he made and it’ll be discussed.”
As the shutdown enters its third week, lawmakers called for a quick solution. Also on “Meet the Press,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) described the debate over a steel or concrete wall as “rather bizarre.” She reiterated that she would like for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring House-passed legislation to the floor that would reopen the government, but noted that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Trump needed to come to a compromise.
“We can pass bills, but they won’t become law,” Collins said, adding that “both sides need to indicate a willingness to listen and to compromise.”
Victoria Guida contributed to this article.