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White House weighs emergency, Army funds diversion for border wall: Reports

Donald Trump
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US President Trump traveled to the border on Thursday to warn of crime and chaos on the frontier, as White House officials considered diverting emergency aid from storm- and fire-ravaged Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and California to build a border barrier, perhaps under an emergency declaration.

In a sign of growing unease about the partial government shutdown, some Senate Republicans came off the sidelines to hash out a deal that would reopen the government as Congress worked toward a broader agreement tying wall funds to protection for some undocumented immigrants and other migrants.

But before those negotiations could gain momentum, they collapsed. Vice President Mike Pence and other members of Trump’s team let it be known privately that the president would not back such a deal. “It kind of fell apart,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who was among those Republicans seeking a deal.

“It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier,” he said later in a brief statement. He added, “I hope it works.”

The administration appeared to be looking into just such a solution: using extraordinary emergency powers to get around Congress in funding the wall.

Among the options, the White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether it can divert for wall construction $13.9 billion allocated last year after devastating hurricanes and wildfires, according to congressional and Defense Department officials with knowledge of the matter, who insisted on anon­y­mity to discuss the possibility.

Administration officials are debating whether they could make such a move without the president declaring a national emergency, an action the White House counsel’s office has explored.

The advisers have warned him of a range of possible negative outcomes, particularly the risk of losing in court, people familiar with the discussions said.

Aides have suggested that Trump would be giving a dysfunctional Congress a pass from fulfilling its duties if he makes an aggressive move. And some of his more conservative advisers have suggested a national emergency declaration is a form of government overreach that is antithetical to conservative principles.

As the shutdown neared Day 21 — the second longest in history — Mr. Trump used a visit to a border facility in McAllen, Tex., to blame the protracted shutdown on Democrats, charging that their opposition to a wall was responsible for brutal crime and violence.

“You’ll have crime in Iowa, you’ll have crime in New Hampshire, you’ll have crime in New York” without a wall, he warned.

“We could stop that cold,” he added.

Mr. Trump also repeated his demand for the money from Congress while saying that Mexico would somehow provide funds indirectly for the wall, a contradiction of what he said in December when he wrote in a Twitter post, “I often stated, ‘One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.’ ”

“I didn’t say they’re going to write me a check for $10 billion or $20 billion,” Mr. Trump said on Thursday. “If Congress approves this trade bill, they’ll pay for the wall many times over. When I say Mexico’s going to pay for the wall, that’s what I mean.”

It was among the bewildering statements that underscored his often contradictory attempts to force Democrats to capitulate. Mr. Trump renewed his threat to declare a national emergency and build his wall without congressional approval.

“We can declare a national emergency,” Mr. Trump said. “We shouldn’t have to.”

Later, standing just by the Rio Grande with military vehicles and border agents as his backdrop, he said he would consider a compromise that would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, often known as Dreamers, to maintain legal status they lost when he ended the Obama-era program that protected them.

“I would like to do a much broader form of immigration,” Mr. Trump said. “We could help the Dreamers.”

Only hours earlier, Mr. Pence had rejected such a deal, saying the president wanted to wait until the Supreme Court ruled this spring on whether the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was constitutional. “No wall, no deal,” Mr. Pence declared in a briefing with reporters on Capitol Hill. “We’re going to keep standing strong, keep standing firm.”

The vice president faulted the Democrats, but he has essentially blocked potential solutions for the impasse. He has made it clear that Mr. Trump would not drop his insistence on funding for a wall on the southwestern border, which Democrats have branded a nonstarter.

Mr. Pence also indicated that the president was disinclined to accept the idea behind a bipartisan plan that had been under discussion in the Senate that would trade wall funding for legal status for undocumented immigrants facing the threat of deportation, including the Dreamers and people who previously held Temporary Protected Status.

Privately, he told Mr. Graham’s group that the president also would not support a proposal that would reopen the government for three weeks while Republicans and Democrats work to hash out a broader legislative deal on the wall and temporary grants of legal status for the two groups.

“We’re kind of stuck,” Mr. Graham conceded.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, also showed no signs of budging, urging the Republican-controlled Senate to take up a measure that the House passed on Wednesday to reopen part of the government. The House passed two more measures on Thursday, this time funding the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and Agriculture, as well as the Food and Drug Administration.

A dozen Republicans crossed party lines to support one of the measures — slightly more than in previous votes, but no indicator that the patience of Mr. Trump’s own party was wearing thin.

“We say to them: ‘Take yes for an answer. This is what you had proposed,’” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference. “Why are you rejecting it at the expense of the health, safety and well-being of the American people? Do you take an oath to the American people, or to Donald Trump?”

The showdown has forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay and placed federal benefits for millions more in jeopardy, with the fallout being felt across the United States. Without debate on Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed legislation to ensure that workers who go without salaries receive back pay when the government reopens. Senator Mitch McConnell Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said Mr. Trump had assured him he would sign the bill.

The partial shutdown will almost certainly become the longest in American history on Saturday, eclipsing a 21-day lapse that began in December 1995. Mr. Trump tweeted Thursday that he would skip a planned trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, slated to begin Jan. 22, because of the impasse.

The implosion of the congressional deal left lawmakers bracing for Mr. Trump to declare a national emergency. Senior Democrats were exploring both legislative and legal options to challenge the move.

The president is allowed to divert unspent money from projects under a national emergency. But a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential discussions, questioned the legality of using Army Corps funding, saying it would be subject to restrictions under the Stafford Act, which governs disaster relief. The official said the process was as much a political exercise intended to threaten projects Democrats valued as a pragmatic one.

“That would be a travesty,” Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon and the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview.

“It’s all speculative at this point,” he said, alluding wryly to Mr. Trump’s penchant for abrupt announcements at all hours of the day and night. “Until we get a tweet at 2:30 tomorrow morning, we won’t know.”

Still, Republican senators who had called for reopening the government while the debate over border security continues said they were disappointed.

“It’s very difficult when we’re dealing with people who do not want to budge at all with their positions, and that’s the president and Speaker Pelosi,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine said. “They’re each very dug in on their position, and that’s made this very difficult to resolve.”

©2019 The New York Times Service

Source: Business Standard