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Trump sends clear signal he’s moving toward a national emergency over southern border

Move could circumvent shutdown standoff

President Donald Trump is signaling that he’s likely to declare a national emergency at the southern border. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump is signaling that he’s likely to declare a national emergency at the southern border. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 10:32 a.m. | President Donald Trump sent another clear signal he is moving close to declaring a national emergency at the southern border if he cannot cut a border security deal with Democrats to end a partial government shutdown.

Trump told reporters “I have the option” to do so, saying of talks with Democrats: “If this doesn’t work out, I’ll probably will do it — maybe definitely.”

Trump’s comments came as he left the White House for a high-profile visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to speculate too much about what would happen if the president if the president follows through on his threat.“Let’s see what he decides to do,” she said. But she did say it would be “irresponsible” of Trump.

“I think he’s going to have to answer to his own party on usurping that much power,” she said.

Trump’s trip comes amid a bitter standoff with congressional Democratic leaders, including a contentious Situation Room meeting that Trump abruptly ended after a row over his proposed southern border wall, which Democrats vehemently oppose.

‘No slamming!’

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., emerged from the West Wing and accused Trump of slamming the table around which he and leaders were sitting before, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., put it, “stomping out.”

In a Thursday morning tweet, the president said there was “no slamming!” During the chilly South Lawn mini-press conference, the president claimed he did not “smash the table,” adding: “But I should have.”

“The president stomped out of the meeting,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday afternoon. Schumer called Trump’s move a “temper tantrum,” contending while standing outside the West Wing that the president at one point “slammed the table” before calling the meeting “a waste of his time.”

Meantime, the standoff could alter the president’s travel plans again — he already canned his holiday vacation in Florida because of the shutdown. Trump said his planned trip later this month to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland is “still on,” but if the partial government shutdown is still going he “won’t go.”

As he left for his border visit, the president — wearing khakis, a black jacket and a white “Make America Great Again” baseball cap — ripped into congressional Democrats, saying they have been “taken over” by members he contends “don’t care about crime.” He again implied that illegal immigration automatically breeds higher crime rates and said of the opposition party: “They have gone crazy.”

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., defended his party Thursday minutes after Trump spoke, telling Fox News that Democrats support “strong border security.”

“We also want to use our tax dollars efficiently. And building a wall across the southern border is not an efficient use of resources,” Lieu said. To that end, White House officials in recent days have pointed to remarks by Schumer during the Obama administration endorsing lawmakers’ allocation of funds for border fencing.

But Lieu said “21st century technology, human resources, other assets to better secure our border — I think that’s where we’re having the conflict.” But White House officials contend they added a number of such Democratic requests to a border security spending proposal they submitted Sunday to lawmakers after congressional aides met with Vice President Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over the weekend.

Asked about Schumer’s charge he pounded the situation room table, Trump replied: “I didn’t pound the table. That is a lie.” The table-pounding flap has sent the shutdown and border security talks to a new low, with no deal in sight.

“If we don’t make a deal, I would say 100 percent, but I don’t want to say 100 percent because maybe something else comes up,” Trump said of declaring an emergency at the border. “But if we don’t make a deal, I would say it would be very surprising to me if I don’t declare a national emergency and just fund it through the various mechanisms — and by the way, there’s more than one mechanism.”

The president said his lawyers have advised him “100 percent” that he can fund his border wall via a national emergency declaration.

“We have plenty of funds if there’s a national emergency,” he said. “There’s a lot funds. … There’s no reason why we can’t come to a deal.”

Legal issues

Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin met with Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan Wednesday morning to warn him about a national emergency, which budget and legal experts say would allow Trump to access already appropriated but “unobligated” Pentagon dollars for the border barrier project.

“I cautioned him that if President Trump directs DoD to circumvent Congress in such a legally dubious way on such a major issue, Congress will have to reevaluate its relationship with the department and judge whether each instance of broad flexibility granted to the Department is worth the risk of abuse by President Trump,” Durbin said in a statement.

The president was asked twice as he left for Texas if he plans to invite congressional leaders back to the White House to resume negotiations. He did not directly answer either time.

Trump contended that “far-left” forces have decided the border wall standoff marks the start of the 2020 presidential campaign.

“And that’s okay with me,” he said, almost daring Democrats to continue resisting his whims on the matter.

But among the cautionary voices was Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who among Democrats has had a better relationship with Trump than most.

“I don’t think it’s legal. I think it’ll be challenged  and I think it’ll probably be overturned in the courts. But it might be the only way out of this,” Manchin told reporters Thursday about an emergency declaration.

Lindsey McPherson and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this reportWatch: Trump says no sign of GOP disunity, may still declare national emergency

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