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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 January 2019

Trump allies urge him to use crisis powers to build border wall

President will address the nation on Tuesday evening but is not expected to announce a national emergency

Mr Trump says he has the authority to build a wall without congressional approval if he declares a national emergency. Getty
Mr Trump says he has the authority to build a wall without congressional approval if he declares a national emergency. Getty

President Donald Trump’s conservative allies are urging him to declare a national emergency to build his proposed border wall, though he is not expected to do so in his address to the nation on Tuesday evening.

The emerging strategy is now seen by some of his allies as the president’s best way to get his wall on the US-Mexico border – a key campaign promise. The move could also offer a path out of a political crisis created after he shut down much of the government because Congress refused to spend more than $5 billion to build the wall.

It’s unlikely that Mr Trump will use an Oval Office address scheduled for 9pm Washington time to invoke emergency powers. A draft Tuesday morning didn’t include such a declaration, though Trump could change his mind and add it at any time. His advisers continued to jockey over the strategy ahead of the speech.

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Walls are as much a state of mind as they are physical structures

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are scheduled to deliver a televised response following Trump’s speech as the government shutdown, already the second longest on record, stretches into its 18th day.

Mr Trump’s team was seeking Tuesday morning to include an olive branch to Democratic leaders on the impasse even as the president argues the border is a national security crisis, according to a person familiar with the matter. Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, was making calls to reach out to Democrats on Tuesday, the person said.

But some key Republicans were cautioning against the move.

Representative Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said it would “be damaging” for the president to reallocate military funds to constructing a border wall. “I am opposed to using defence dollars for non-defence issues,” he said.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said the stand-off over funding the wall “is an imminently solvable problem”.

“There is a hard way and easy way to do things,” Mr Cornyn said. “That definitely would be the hard way,” he said, referring to a national emergency declaration.

The Trump allies pressing for the emergency-powers strategy believe there is a good chance the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court will line up behind the GOP president and, if not, political blame can be pointed at the justices who rule against Mr Trump, the people said.

Vice President Mike Pence told NBC News on Tuesday morning that Mr Trump in his address “will explain the need not just to build the wall, which he’s determined to do, but also to provide our border patrol with additional resources.” He will also call on Democrats to “come to the table and start negotiating".

The president is eager to invoke emergency authority, a move that would test the limits of presidential power.

Mr Trump has asserted that he has the authority to build a wall without congressional approval if he declares a national emergency, but the White House hasn’t explained the legal justification. Democrats have rejected the idea as an illegal overreach of presidential authority but Republican lawmakers have been relatively quiet.

A key House conservative offered muted public support for the approach despite the precedent it would set expanding presidential power.

“Obviously, a national emergency declaration is an option but it should be the last option used,” said Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who leads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and regularly talks to Mr Trump.

“It is far better that Democrat and Republican negotiators find common ground between $5.6 billion and zero for new border construction,” said Mr Meadows.

Under the law governing the Pentagon, the president can declare a national emergency, which would allow the defense secretary to redirect money from military construction funds for projects “necessary” to support the deployment of US armed forces. That allows the secretary to skip congressional approval, which is normally needed to spend federal money.

Meanwhile, a Reuters poll published on Tuesday shows a growing proportion of Americans blame Mr Trump for the partial government shutdown that will cut off paychecks to federal workers this week, though Republicans mostly support his refusal to approve a budget without taxpayer dollars for the border wall.

The national poll of 2,203 voters, which ran from January 1 to January 7, found that 51 percent of adults believe Mr Trump “deserves most of the blame” for the shutdown, which entered its 18th day on Tuesday. That is up 4 percentage points from a similar poll that ran from December 21 to 25.

Another 32 percent blame congressional Democrats for the shutdown and 7 percent blame congressional Republicans, according to the poll. Those percentages are mostly unchanged from the previous poll.

Updated: January 9, 2019 08:17 AM

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