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Trump edges closer to declaring national emergency to fund border wall

Trump edges closer to declaring national emergency to fund border wall

Donald Trump is edging closer to declaring a national emergency to fund his long-promised border wall, as pressure mounts to find a solution to the three-week impasse that has closed parts of the government, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without pay. Trump was consulting White House attorneys and allies about declaring a national emergency,…

Donald Trump is edging closer to declaring a national emergency to fund his long-promised border wall, as pressure mounts to find a solution to the three-week impasse that has closed parts of the government, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without pay.

Trump was consulting White House attorneys and allies about declaring a national emergency, and using presidential emergency powers to take unilateral action to construct the wall over the objections of Congress. He claimed his lawyers told him the action would withstand legal scrutiny “100%”.

Such a move to bypass Congress’s constitutional control of the nation’s purse strings would spark certain legal challenges and bipartisan cries of executive overreach.

About 800,000 workers, more than half of them still on the job, were to miss their first paycheck on Friday under the stoppage, and Washington was close to setting a dubious record for the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history. Those markers – along with growing effects to national parks, food inspections and the economy overall – left some Republicans on Capitol Hill increasingly uncomfortable with Trump’s demands.

Asked about the plight of those going without pay, the president shifted the focus, saying he felt badly “for people that have family members that have been killed” by “criminals” who came over the border.

Democrats this week accused Trump of using rhetoric “full of misinformation and even malice” in his arguments to support the funding of the wall.

Trump visited McAllen, Texas, and the Rio Grande on Thursday to highlight what he calls a crisis of drugs and crime. He said that “if for any reason we don’t get this going” – an agreement with House Democrats who have refused to approve the $5.7bn he demands for the wall – “I will declare a national emergency.”

Quick guide

All you need to know about a US government shutdown

What is a government shutdown?

When the US Congress fails to pass appropriate funding for government operations and agencies, a shutdown is triggered. Most government services are frozen, barring those that are deemed “essential”, such as the work of the Department of Homeland Security and FBI. During this shutdown, around 25% of the government workforce is placed on unpaid furlough and told not to work. Workers deemed essential, such as active duty military personnel, are not furloughed. 

Why might the government shut down?

The president and members of Congress are at an impasse over what should be included in a spending bill to keep the government open. 

How common is a shutdown?

There have been more than a dozen government shutdowns in the US since 1981, although ranging in duration. The longest occurred under Bill Clinton, lasting a total of 21 days from December 1995 to January 1996, when the then House speaker, Newt Gingrich, demanded sharp cuts to government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and welfare.

This shutdown is on course to be the longest in US history.

What would be the cost of a shutdown?

A government shutdown would cost the US roughly $6.5bn a week, according to a report by S&P Global analysts. “A disruption in government spending means no government paychecks to spend; lost business and revenue to private contractors; lost sales at retail shops, particularly those that circle now-closed national parks; and less tax revenue for Uncle Sam,” the report stated. “That means less economic activity and fewer jobs.”

Hundreds of thousands of people are not receiving regular paychecks in this shutdown. In previous shutdowns, furloughed employees have been paid retrospectively – but those payments have often been delayed.

Sabrina Siddiqui

Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images North America

A congressional official said the White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to look for billions of dollars earmarked last year for disaster response for Puerto Rico and other areas that could be diverted to a border wall as part of the emergency declaration. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

“We’re either going to have a win, make a compromise – because I think a compromise is a win for everybody – or I will declare a national emergency,” Trump said before departing the White House for his politically flavored visit to the border. He wore his campaign-slogan “Make America Great Again” cap throughout.

It was not clear what a compromise might entail, and there were no indications that one was in the offing. Trump says he won’t reopen the government without money for the wall. Democrats say they favor measures to bolster border security but oppose the long, impregnable barrier that Trump envisages.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said at one point that he didn’t “see a path in Congress” to end the shutdown, then stated later that enough was enough: “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier.”

Visiting a border patrol station in McAllen, Trump viewed tables piled with weapons and narcotics. Like nearly all drugs trafficked across the border, they were intercepted by agents at official ports of entry, he was told, and not in the remote areas where he wants to extend tall barriers.

Still, he declared: “A wall works. Nothing like a wall.”

He argued that the US can’t solve the problem without a “very substantial barrier” along the border, but offered exaggerations about the effectiveness of border walls and current apprehensions of those crossing illegally.

Sitting among border patrol officers, state and local officials and military representatives, Trump insisted he was “winning” the shutdown fight and criticized Democrats for asserting he was manufacturing a sense of crisis in order to declare an emergency.

On Capitol Hill, House speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the president of engaging in political games to fire up his most loyal supporters, suggesting that a heated meeting Wednesday with legislators at the White House had been “a setup” so that Trump could walk out of it.

In an ominous sign for those seeking a swift end to the showdown, Trump announced he was canceling his trip to Davos, Switzerland, scheduled for later this month, citing Democrats’ “intransigence” on border security. He was to leave Jan. 21 to attend the World Economic Forum.

The partial shutdown would set a record early Saturday, stretching beyond the 21-day closure that ended 6 January 1996, during Bill Clinton’s administration.

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