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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, January 12, 2019 1:11 am

Trump pulls back on calling emergency

Says he'll give Congress time to act on shutdown

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump cast fresh doubt Friday on whether he would declare a national emergency to build a wall along the southern border, leaving lawmakers waiting for the president's next move as the government shutdown was poised to become the longest in U.S. history.

“What we're not looking to do right now is national emergency,” Trump said Friday afternoon, surrounded by law enforcement officials at a White House roundtable. “I'm not going to do it so fast.”

Trump reasserted his right to build border walls via an emergency declaration, a move that would bypass a deadlocked Congress in which Democrats have blocked any new wall money. But he said he wanted to give lawmakers more time to act and did not offer a timetable for a decision.

The comments marked a shift from earlier Friday when Trump appeared on the brink of declaring a national emergency. The president has said repeatedly in recent days that he might do so, and his administration had asked agencies to begin preparations.

Lawmakers from both parties had speculated that a national-emergency declaration could clear the way for an end to the shutdown that, at 22 days long today, would become the lengthiest the nation has ever endured.

Before the shutdown and since, Trump has floated numerous strategies and potential solutions, only to reverse himself within days, hours or minutes – making it unclear whether his stance Friday would hold or for how long.

But for now, Trump's apparent retreat on the emergency declaration leaves the impasse in place, with no obvious way to resolve it and no real efforts underway to do so.

The Senate adjourned for the weekend on Thursday and House lawmakers left town Friday, with no new negotiations scheduled.

Large parts of the federal government have been without funding since Dec. 22, and the partial shutdown's effects have multiplied as the lapse has dragged on. Friday marked the first missed paycheck for many of the nearly 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed or working without compensation. And the White House has scrambled to find ways to keep the partially shuttered government functioning, a rapidly shifting and often improvised process that has seen the administration reverse past precedent and enter into legally murky territory.

Trump's seeming ambivalence over an emergency declaration mirrors disagreement within his own party.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he met with Trump on Friday and emerged from the meeting with a clear directive for the president.

“Mr. President, declare a national emergency now,” Graham said in a statement. “Build a wall now.”

But Trump has gotten sharp pushback from the idea, even from Republicans.

“I think the president should not do it,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters. “I think as a member of Congress I ought to be very selfish about the constitutional powers that we have to appropriate money. I think it might be a bad precedent.”

Other prominent Republicans on Friday expressed alarm that Trump might try to divert funds from disaster-recovery projects in places such as Texas and use it to build the border wall. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he vigorously opposed using any of the money appropriated by Congress to clean up damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“We worked very hard to make sure that the victims of Hurricane Harvey, their concerns are addressed and Texas is able to rebuild. And I think we are all together on that,” Cornyn said.

Trump's lawyers have also privately warned the president he could be on shaky footing with an emergency declaration, according to people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

With a White House decision in flux, Congress made no progress toward a deal.

Trump said that as long as the wall is built, Democrats could call it anything they want, suggesting they dub it “peaches.”

“The Democrats have to help us. ... It will take us 15 minutes, ... and then we will get on to much bigger immigration reform,” said Trump, who claimed throughout his presidential campaign that the wall would be paid for by Mexico, an assertion he still periodically makes.