Washington • Day 20 of the partial government shutdown came and went without signs of any deal as President Donald Trump considers declaring a national emergency and tapping Pentagon funds to build his long-desired border wall.
Trump, steadfast in his demand for $5.7 billion to build a physical structure along the U.S.-Mexico border, said Thursday he’s still hopeful Democrats will come around to fund the government with border wall money — but arguing he may still declare a national emergency if no deal is reached.
“Either we’re going to win or make a compromise,” Trump told reporters. “I’m OK to making a compromise. Compromise is in my vocabulary a very strong word. And so, we’re either going to have a win, make a compromise because I think a compromise is a win for everybody, or I will declare a national emergency.”
Such emergency plans brought an immediate rebuke from both sides of Capitol Hill, including from freshman Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
"I don’t want to see a declaration of national emergency,” Romney told MSNBC. “I think that’s an action that would be taken in the most extreme circumstances, and, hopefully, we don’t reach that.”
Several scholars say using an emergency in relation to the border may be dubiously legal sans an overwhelming crisis affecting national security. The White House has ramped up arguments that border crossers, drug dealers and gangs threaten American security, and a wall is the only way to head off the problem.
Trump visited the southern border along the Texas side Thursday, meeting with border patrol agents and touting the need for more than just technological and human resources to stop people from illegally crossing. The photo op was meant to highlight the need for a wall and to double-down on Trump’s Oval Office address earlier this week.
“It’s not status quo. It is a crisis,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Thursday, adding “for those who like to put their head in the sand and say it’s ‘manufactured,’ ” it’s an “insult.”
Some pundits have suggested that Trump may have boxed himself in by making the border wall funding the only way he would sign a new bill reopening the shuttered federal departments, which include Treasury, Justice and Interior, among others. One way out for Trump would be to declare an emergency, funnel money from the Department of Defense and then sign a budget bill.
Negotiations between the Democrat-led House and the White House have hit a concrete wall of their own. Trump walked out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York on Wednesday after they refused to budge on money for a wall.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refuses to bring up House-passed bills to reopen the government because they lack border wall money, a position that leaves the government partially shuttered for the near future — unless Trump is satisfied with taking a national emergency action.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said it was too early to comment on a possible emergency declaration.
“When determining the legality of any presidential action, I first need to know the specific action being taken by the executive branch and the specific statutory basis justifying that action,” Lee said in a statement. “Neither of these have been identified to me yet so any speculation on their legality would be premature.”
Other GOP senators are warning Trump that national emergencies are strictly reserved for actual, life-threatening and national security situations and not because there's a political impasse.
“That would be a very dubious move from a constitutional perspective," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.”
The current shutdown is likely to turn into the longest closure in American history, surpassing the 21-day shutdown in 1995-1996.
“It makes me very worried about whether we’re going to be able to get to a compromise this week," Collins told NBC News. "I’m worried about what the endgame is. This cannot be allowed to go on forever.”
About 800,000 federal workers are now going without pay, including about half of that number in law enforcement or essential jobs that require them to work without getting a paycheck. Furloughed IRS workers rallied in Ogden on Thursday, frustrated that they were about to miss a paycheck. Some services like Social Security checks and Medicare payments continue, though Americans can’t sign up for new services in some departments.