Trump says he could invoke emergency powers to build wall without Congress

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
President Trump speaks to reporters in the Rose Garden on Friday as Vice President Mike Pence looks on. (Photo: Jim Young/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — President Trump floated the possibility he could declare a “national emergency” in order to build a wall on the southern border during a freewheeling press conference at the White House on Friday.

“I can do it if I want. … We can call a national emergency because of the security of our country, absolutely,” Trump said, adding, “We can do it. I haven’t done it. I may do it. I may do it. But we could call a national emergency and build it very quickly.”

Trump’s comments confirmed an earlier report from ABC that he has considered making an emergency declaration.

The president’s press conference was held in the Rose Garden and followed a meeting with congressional leaders from both parties about the government shutdown, which began on Dec. 22. The shutdown was sparked by Trump’s demand for over $5 billion for a border wall. Democrats have refused to provide the funding and argued that a wall would be ineffective.

Though he suggested he could build the wall without authorization from Congress under emergency powers, Trump said he is still trying to make a deal with the Democrats.

“If we can do it through a negotiated process, we’re giving that a shot,” the president said.

In response to a question asking if he meant that as a threat, Trump said raising an emergency declaration shouldn’t be taken by Democrats as intimidation.

“I’d never threaten anybody, but I am allowed to do that, yes,” Trump said.

A presidential declaration of a national emergency to construct a border wall would likely face legal challenges. Trump and other administration officials have argued there is a crisis on the border and made dubious claims that terrorists have been apprehended there. At his press conference, Trump was joined by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who repeated his claim that terrorists have been caught at the border, although without providing conclusive details.

Prior to Trump’s press conference, newly minted Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made brief remarks in front of the West Wing about their meeting with Trump. Pelosi characterized it as a “lengthy and sometimes contentious conversation.” Schumer said Trump expressed willingness to keep the government “closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.”

In the Rose Garden, Trump said Schumer’s report was accurate, but that he had set up working groups to negotiate throughout the coming weekend and expressed optimism a deal could be reached as early as next week.

The president took questions for over a half hour at the press conference. Among many other things, he also addressed controversial comments made by a freshman congresswoman who called for his impeachment, and recent dramatic declines in the stock markets tied to the ongoing trade tensions with China. Trump also said he discussed potentially making a deal to revive the DACA protections for young immigrants as part of an agreement to end the shutdown, but he reiterated his view that this could not be done until the legal challenges to his attempts to end that program were resolved. And Trump addressed the federal workers who are missing paychecks due to the shutdown. He said he is confident they are supportive of his position since “a lot of them want to see border security.”

Trump also discussed some of the details of his vision for a wall. He said his administration is already using eminent domain to secure needed territory along the border and said the government has made “generous” offers to people whose land is being taken. Trump said this process would not slow down wall construction.

“It’s not going to hold it up because, under the military version of eminent domain and under actually homeland security we can do it before we even start. … We have already purchased a lot of it,” Trump said.

Whatever happens, the finished product will not match Trump’s signature campaign promise, which was a concrete border wall that would be paid for by Mexico.

Trump has recently modified his rhetoric and said he is open to steel slats or another type of barrier. At his press conference, Trump insisted this would only be a stronger version of the wall than what he promised.

“Steel is stronger than concrete. If I build this wall, or fence, or anything the Democrats need to call it … if I build a steel wall rather than a concrete wall, it will actually be stronger than concrete,” Trump said.

Trump has recently claimed Mexico would pay for the wall through his new USMCA trade pact. Yahoo News asked Trump to describe the “specific mechanism” in that agreement that would lead to Mexico paying for the wall. Trump initially did not directly answer the question and instead declared, “You’re going to be seeing it very soon.”

The president went on to suggest the country “will be making billions and billions of dollars a year in more money” through his trade deal as businesses return to the U.S. and that this would be “paying for the wall many, many times over.”

However, the USMCA has yet to be approved by Congress. Even if the pact is approved and does indeed lead to increased tax revenue, that money could not be used for a border wall without congressional approval.

Nevertheless, Trump said these funds would be coming “in a period of a year, two years and three years.”

“Absolutely Mexico is paying for the wall,” Trump said.

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