US President Donald Trump on Thursday threatened to use emergency powers to bypass Congress to pay for a wall on the US-Mexico border, as a partial government shutdown tied to the issue stretched into its 20th day, Reuters reports
“We can declare a national emergency. We shouldn’t have to,” Trump was quoted as telling reporters during a trip to the Texas border. “This is just common sense.”
The Republican president is adamant that a government funding bill to end the shutdown include US$5.7 billion for a border barrier, while congressional Democrats oppose that.
The standoff has left a quarter of the federal government closed down and hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.
A day after he stormed out of a meeting with Democratic leaders, Trump attacked them for refusing his demand, calling them harder to deal with than China.
“I find China, frankly, in many ways to be far more honorable than Crying Chuck and Nancy. I really do,” Trump said, referring to House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
The House passed two bills to fund the departments of transportation, housing and agriculture – each drawing a few more Republican votes than a similar effort on Wednesday to reopen the Treasury Department and other agencies.
The White House has said Trump would veto the bills if they made it to his desk.
Trump canceled plans to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which is scheduled to start on Jan. 22, signaling he was prepared for the shutdown to drag on.
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If he invokes emergency powers to fund the border wall, it could prompt an immediate legal challenge over constitutional powers from congressional Democrats, Reuters noted.
Trump said his lawyers had told him he had the power to invoke national emergency powers to get his wall funded.
“I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,” Trump told reporters. “I’m not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to, I will.”
The declaration would circumvent Congress’ power over the national purse strings, giving Trump the ability to redirect money from the Department of Defense to his proposed wall.
A subsequent court fight could be protracted, making room for the shutdown to be ended in the interim. The final outcome would then be left up to judges, not the president and Congress.
Pressure on both Republicans and Democrats could intensify on Friday when about 800,000 federal employees miss their first paychecks.
The government shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, will be the longest in US history if it is still under way on Saturday.