Trump seeks to justify possible emergency declaration that would bypass Congress on border wall

John Fritze and David Jackson

WASHINGTON – Locked in an impasse with Democrats over his border wall, President Donald Trump is increasingly seeking to justify a potential emergency declaration that would let him dip into billions of dollars for the project.

As the partial government shutdown  is set to become the longest such lapse in history Saturday, Trump remained focused on highlighting the border issue. He planned to host state and local officials at the White House for a roundtable on border security at 2:30 p.m. EST on Friday.

"Humanitarian Crisis at our Southern Border," Trump wrote on Twitter on Friday. "I just got back and it is a far worse situation than almost anyone would understand, an invasion!"

An emergency declaration by Trump would be certain to face immediate legal challenges but it could provide the president an exit strategy from the impasse over the government shutdown, which stems from a fight with Democrats over the president's demands for funding for a border wall. 

White House officials have said for several days that administration attorneys are reviewing the president’s powers under the 1976 National Emergencies Act, and USA TODAY reported that the Pentagon is already drawing up plans to build the wall in case the president signs an emergency order.

“If we don't make a deal with Congress most likely I will do that,” Trump told Fox News in reference to the possibility of an emergency declaration. “I can't imagine any reason why not, because I'm allowed to do it. The law is 100 percent on my side.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the path to resolving the impasse over the shutdown looks bleak and he lent support to the idea of an emergency declaration.

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“It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier,” Graham, usually a Trump ally, said in a statement. “I hope it works.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaking to the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he believed Congress should put aside money for the wall but added that “I do think it’s an emergency, and if the president declares that, then we’ll go from there.”

Trump's declaration of an emergency at the southern border would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to design barriers and allow contracts to build them. Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, who commands the corps, accompanied Trump on his trip Thursday to tour the border in Texas.

Some lawmakers attacked the plan, noting that normal Army Corps of Engineers projects involve flood control and other forms of disaster relief.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called in on the Trump administration to disavow "plans to raid disaster recovery funds to pay for his absurd border wall ... These funds were intended by Congress to be used for real emergencies and to help millions recover from hurricanes and other disasters."

Federal law gives presidents wide latitude to declare an emergency but is far more restrictive about the powers the White House can invoke once an emergency is declared. One provision available to Trump allows a president to redirect defense money that had been set aside for other purposes.

Some Democrats had threatened to sue Trump over the approach, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was more circumspect on Thursday.

“If and when the president does that, you’ll find out how we will react,” the California Democrat said.

“I think the president will have problems on his own side of the aisle for exploiting the situation in a way that enhances his power,” she said. “Let’s see what he does.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump seeks to justify possible emergency declaration that would bypass Congress on border wall