Trump may declare national emergency to build border wall

He threatens to keep US govt shut for months, or even years, if he doesn't get funding for it

US President Donald Trump warned that he was considering declaring a national emergency to build his wall at the southern border without congressional approval. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has threatened to keep the federal government partly closed for months, or even years, if he does not get US$5.6 billion (S$7.6 billion) for his wall at the southern border.

He also warned that he was considering declaring a national emergency to build it without congressional approval.

Mr Trump and Democratic leaders emerged from a two-hour meeting last Friday in the White House Situation Room without a deal to reopen government agencies that have been shuttered for two weeks. The two sides offered sharply contrasting views of where they stood.

By the end of the day, the two sides appeared to be still locked in a stalemate. Democrats called the meeting "contentious", while the President and Republican leaders in the House called it "productive".

And while Mr Trump announced that he had assigned Vice-President Mike Pence to lead a working group to negotiate with Democrats over the weekend, Democrats said the phrase "working group" was never discussed.

"We told the President we needed the government open," Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, told reporters outside the White House.

"He resisted. In fact, he said he'd keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months, or even years."

Appearing in the Rose Garden later, Mr Trump confirmed the remark. "I did say that. Absolutely I said that," he said, flanked by Mr Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and House Republican leaders.

"I don't think it will (happen), but I am prepared."

The impasse, heading into its third week, has closed parts of nine federal agencies, including the Interior Department and the Internal Revenue Service, and left 800,000 federal employees either on a forced leave of absence or working without pay.

Mr Trump expressed little concern for their plight, telling reporters last Friday afternoon that when he hosted members of the Border Patrol Union - his political allies - last Thursday at the White House, they told him not to worry about them, and that he was doing "a great thing for our country".

Ever the real estate developer, Mr Trump offered his vision for what the wall would look like, saying it would be either solid concrete or solid steel, though "steel is actually more expensive".

The President boasted that its construction would be a boon for American industry.

As for invoking his emergency powers to build it, Mr Trump said: "I may do it." He added: "But we can call a national emergency and build it very quickly. And it's another way of doing it. But if we can do it through a negotiated process, we're giving that a shot."

But if Mr Trump is showing no signs of backing down, the pressure may be building on Republicans in Congress.

Two Republican senators have said they want votes to reopen the government, and more than a half-dozen House Republicans joined Democrats last Thursday night to do just that.

The President was asked if he was still "proud to own" the shutdown - a reference to a comment he made last month during a televised Oval Office meeting, when he said he would be proud to shut down the government over border security.

"I'm very proud of doing what I'm doing," he replied. "I don't call it a shutdown. I call it 'doing what you have to do for the benefit and for the safety of our country'."

No matter what happens, the government will remain partly shuttered at least through Tuesday because both Houses of Congress are adjourned until then.


SEE TOP OF THE NEWS: US workers feel the pain as partial govt shutdown continues

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 06, 2019, with the headline Trump may declare national emergency to build border wall. Subscribe