President Donald Trump, facing the prospect within days of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, was considering declaring a national emergency that would likely escalate a policy dispute with Democrats over his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall into a court test of presidential power, Reuters reported.
Trump suggested on Thursday that he could declare an emergency so that he can bypass Congress to get funding for his wall, which was a central promise of his 2016 election campaign.
The President 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, and Trump is now demanding that Congress provide $5.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding for the wall, Reuters adds.
The partial federal government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, and should it continue beyond today, on Saturday it will become the longest shutdown ever.
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.”
Prominent news outlets, citing unnamed sources, reported that the White House had asked the U.S. 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, Reuters noted.
Partial government funding expired on December 22, leaving departments ranging from Justice, Agriculture and Treasury to Commerce and Homeland Security without money to operate programs and pay their workers.
An emergency declaration would come with risks. Even some of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress have signaled 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, Reuters adds.