Washington- President Donald Trump, facing the prospect of the longest US government shutdown in history, is considering declaring a national emergency that would likely escalate a policy dispute with Democrats over his proposed US-Mexico border wall into a court test of presidential power.
To escape a political trap of his own making, Trump on Thursday suggested that he might declare an emergency so he can bypass Congress to get funding for his wall, which was a central promise of his 2016 election campaign.
As the partial government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, Trump reiterated his claim in an early-morning tweet, saying Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall, without offering any evidence. It would become the longest US shutdown on Saturday.
He originally pledged Mexico would pay for the wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs. But the Mexican government has refused. Trump is now demanding that Congress provide $5.7 billion in US taxpayer funding for the wall.
Democrats in Congress call the wall an ineffective, outdated answer to a complex problem. The standoff has left a quarter of the federal government closed down and hundreds of thousands of federal employees staying home on furlough or working without pay. With no Capitol Hill compromise in sight, Trump publicly ruminated on Thursday during a trip to the Texas border about declaring an emergency.
A close Trump confidant judged the time for such a step had come. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement: “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier. I hope it works.”
The Wall Street Journal, NBC and the Washington Post reported that the White House had asked the US Army Corps of Engineers to look into diverting money from its budget toward the wall and to explore how fast construction could begin under an emergency declaration.
Critics of the national emergency strategy have said it may be illegal. In any case, it was almost certain to trigger an immediate court challenge from Democrats, including an accusation of trying to circumvent Congress’ power over the national purse strings. That would push the wall impasse into the courts, allowing the government to be fully reopened while the judges weigh the case, which could take months.
“After the emergency announcement, the path toward construction via executive order may be as unclear as a storm at midnight. But it will at least allow the President to move out of the corner he’s boxed himself into,” said Charles Gabriel, analyst at strategy firm Capital Alpha Partners.
Partial government funding expired on December 22, leaving departments ranging from Justice, Agriculture and Treasury to Commerce and Homeland Security without money.
An emergency declaration would come with risks. Even some of Trump’s fellow Republicans have signalled worries about such an action. Given that the Constitution gives Congress the power to set spending priorities and appropriate money, they worry about a tough legal fight and an unwise precedent.