President Donald Trump appeared close on Friday to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and get funding for his Mexico-US border wall project in a political crisis that saw 800,000 federal employees go without paychecks.
After a meeting with Trump at the White House, his powerful Republican ally, Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “Mr. President, Declare a national emergency NOW. Build a wall NOW.”
Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund border wall construction has morphed from a crowd-pleasing campaign slogan to an epic political fight paralysing Washington, setting an ominous precedent for the remaining two years of the real estate magnate’s troubled first term.
Trump tweeted on Friday that the situation on the Mexican border was “an invasion” and insisting that without a wall, “our Country cannot be safe. Criminals, Gangs, Human Traffickers, Drugs & so much other big trouble.”
But unable to persuade opposition Democrats to give him the money, Trump refused three weeks ago to sign off on a large chunk of unrelated government funding.
On Friday, that partial government shutdown hit the 21-day mark, equaling the record from previous funding freezes and marking the first day in the saga that paychecks failed to appear for workers as well as FBI agents, air traffic controllers and museum staff around the country.
Trump hoped the shutdown would pressure Congress into giving him the wall money but the Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, haven’t budged, saying they won’t even discuss wall funding before government is fully reopened.
The impasse leaves Trump with few options other than to relent or to declare a national emergency on the Mexican border, giving himself authority to sidestep Congress and order wall funds to be squeezed from other budgets.
He appears ever closer to taking the second option, which opponents say would likely be challenged in court as a case of presidential overreach.
On Thursday, Trump took his message to the Texas border with Mexico and insisted once more that he has “the absolute right to declare a national emergency.”
In preparation for the possible emergency move, the White House has asked the military to look into diverting funds currently allocated for disaster relief to the wall, US media reported — a move that would heighten the polemic.
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