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Posted at: Jan 12, 2019, 7:36 AM; last updated: Jan 12, 2019, 7:36 AM (IST)

As shutdown ties record, Trump weighs emergency declaration

As shutdown ties record, Trump weighs emergency declaration
US President Donald Trump reaches out to Reggie Singh, whose brother Ronil Singh, a Newman, police corporal, was killed in the line of duty, during a roundtable discussion in McAllen, Texas. AFP

Washington, January 11

President Donald Trump, facing the prospect of the longest US government shutdown in history, is considering declaring a national emergency that would likely escalate a policy dispute with Democrats over his proposed US-Mexico border wall into a court test of presidential power.

To escape a political trap of his own making, Trump on Thursday suggested that he might declare an emergency so he can bypass Congress to get funding for his wall, which was a central promise of his 2016 election campaign.

As the partial government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, Trump reiterated his claim in an early-morning tweet, saying Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall, without offering any evidence. It would become the longest US shutdown on Saturday.

He originally pledged Mexico would pay for the wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs. But the Mexican government has refused. Trump is now demanding that Congress provide $5.7 billion in US taxpayer funding for the wall.

Democrats in Congress call the wall an ineffective, outdated answer to a complex problem. The standoff has left a quarter of the federal government closed down and hundreds of thousands of federal employees staying home on furlough or working without pay. With no Capitol Hill compromise in sight, Trump publicly ruminated on Thursday during a trip to the Texas border about declaring an emergency.

A close Trump confidant judged the time for such a step had come. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement: “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier. I hope it works.”

The Wall Street Journal, NBC and the Washington Post reported that the White House had asked the US Army Corps of Engineers to look into diverting money from its budget toward the wall and to explore how fast construction could begin under an emergency declaration.

Critics of the national emergency strategy have said it may be illegal. In any case, it was almost certain to trigger an immediate court challenge from Democrats, including an accusation of trying to circumvent Congress’ power over the national purse strings. That would push the wall impasse into the courts, allowing the government to be fully reopened while the judges weigh the case, which could take months.

“After the emergency announcement, the path toward construction via executive order may be as unclear as a storm at midnight. But it will at least allow the President to move out of the corner he’s boxed himself into,” said Charles Gabriel, analyst at strategy firm Capital Alpha Partners.

Partial government funding expired on December 22, leaving departments ranging from Justice, Agriculture and Treasury to Commerce and Homeland Security without money.

An emergency declaration would come with risks. Even some of Trump’s fellow Republicans have signalled worries about such an action. Given that the Constitution gives Congress the power to set spending priorities and appropriate money, they worry about a tough legal fight and an unwise precedent. — Reuters

Impact on US govt widens on Day 21 

  • A shutdown of about a quarter of the US government reached its 21st day on Friday, tying it with the longest shutdown to date, and many of the 800,000 employees, who have been furloughed or who are working without pay, missed their first paychecks
  • The shutdown, which began on December 22, is the 19th since the mid-1970s, although most have been brief. A 1995-1996 shutdown over a funding battle between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich also lasted 21 days
  • The White House and congressional Democrats remain divided over Trump’s demand for money for a border wall, even as the president warned in Texas on Thursday that he may use emergency powers to bypass Congress and get billions of dollars to build it   
House passes Bill to reopen some federal agencies  

  • The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives voted on Friday to restore funding for some federal agencies that have been shut down by a fight with President Trump over border wall funding. But a full resumption of government operations at those agencies did not appear in sight
  • The Senate adjourned for the weekend without taking action and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t bring the House Bill up for a vote. Republicans who control the Senate have so far stood with Trump and insisted that any spending Bills include money for his wall

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