US President Donald Trump on Friday said he could declare a national emergency to circumvent the US Congress and build a wall along the border with Mexico, shortly after threatening Democrats that he is prepared to keep part of the government shut down for a year or longer if his demands are not met.
“Absolutely we can call a national emergency because of the security of our country,” Trump said at the White House. “I haven’t done it. I may do it. We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly.”
Trump’s comments were swiftly met with skepticism within his own party and sharp criticism by Democrats.
Several lawmakers and experts said that the Congress would still be required to allocate the funds for the wall even if the president declared a national emergency.
“He could declare an emergency, but that does not create the funding,” said former US Senate Budget Committee staff director Bill Hoagland. “Congress would still have to fund the emergency.”
US House of Representative Democrats said they would sue if Trump tries to declare a national emergency to build the wall.
“The president’s authority in this area is intended for wars and genuine national emergencies,” US House Committee on Appropriations spokesman Evan Hollander said in a statement. “Asserting this authority to build a wasteful wall is legally dubious and would invite a legal challenge from Congress.”
Trump made the comments just moments after Democratic leaders left the White House saying there had been no progress toward a deal during a nearly two-hour meeting.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the meeting was contentious, and that Trump refused their proposal to reopen government and deal separately with the dispute over the wall.
“We really cannot resolve this until we open up government, and we made that clear to the president,” Pelosi told reporters after the White House meeting.
However, Trump moments later said that the meeting was productive.
The sides agreed to meet over the weekend and Trump expressed optimism that an agreement could be forged.
Parts of the US government have been shut down for 14 days after Trump refused to sign a spending bill that did not include billions of dollars to continue construction of a border wall, his top campaign promise.
He remains at an impasse with congressional Democrats, who consider the proposed wall a waste of money and have refused to fund it.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and former director of the US Congressional Budget Office, said Trump would still need Congress for the funds.
“Congress holds the purse strings,” said Holtz-Eakin, who was served as chief economic policy adviser for Republican Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “That’s the essence of this dispute. He can declare a national emergency all he wants, but where’s he going to get the money?”
Trump has claimed broad public support for building a wall or other barrier that Democrats call a waste of money. The standoff has shuttered nine of the 15 federal departments and left hundreds of thousands of workers on furlough or working without pay.
Asked whether he accepted responsibility for the shutdown, Trump said: “You can call it the Schumer or the Pelosi or the Trump shutdown, it doesn’t matter to me. Just words.”
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