House Speaker Pelosi mulls options and warns that president’s move is setting a dangerous precedent
Richard Cowan and Steve Holland
US President Donald Trump will sign a border security bill to avert another government shutdown, but also declare a national emergency to try to obtain funds for his promised US-Mexico border wall, a White House spokeswoman said last night.
In an attempt to bypass Congress to get money that lawmakers have so far denied him for his wall, Mr Trump appeared headed toward triggering a swift court challenge from Democrats on constitutional grounds.
The top Democrat in Congress immediately denounced the president’s move. Asked by reporters whether she would file a legal challenge, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “I may, that’s an option.”
“President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action – including a national emergency – to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
“The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” she said in a statement.
The bipartisan compromise federal spending legislation expected to arrive soon on Trump’s desk after being voted on in the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House would provide more than $300bn (€266bn) to fund the Department of Homeland Security and a range of other agencies through September 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Funding for those agencies is due to expire today, which would trigger another partial federal shutdown tomorrow morning if Congress and Mr Trump do not act quickly.
A source familiar with the situation said that the White House had identified $2.7bn in funds previously provided by Congress that could be redirected to barrier funding as part of a national emergency.
The source said White House lawyers had vetted the figures and believed they would withstand a legal challenge. Under the Constitution, Congress holds the national purse strings and makes major decisions on spending taxpayer money.
The Trump administration has suggested that it could use national emergency powers to redirect money already committed by Congress to pay for Trump’s wall.
Ms Pelosi accused Mr Trump of doing “an end-run” around Congress and around the Constitution’s separation of powers that gives Congress, not the president, such authority as federal spending and declaring war.
“It’s not an emergency, what’s happening at the border. It’s a humanitarian challenge to us,” Ms Pelosi said.
“If the president can declare an emergency on something that he has created as an emergency – an illusion that he wants to convey – just think of what a president with different values can present to the American people,” Ms Pelosi added.
Congress was expected last night to approve the bill, which does not contain the money Mr Trump demanded for the wall, but does contain money for other border security measures.
Mr Trump triggered a 35-day-long shutdown of about a quarter of the federal government with his December demand for $5bn to help build a portion of the wall.
The border bill would provide $1.37bn in new money to help build 88.5km of physical barriers on the border. It is the same level of funding Congress appropriated for border security measures last year.
Earlier, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer called the spending legislation agreement a “reasonable compromise”.
“It does not fund the president’s wall, but it does support smart border security initiatives that both parties have always supported… Most importantly, it will keep our government open,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
The legislation would also fund the Justice Department, Commerce Department, State Department, Department of Agriculture, Internal Revenue Service and others.
Failure to enact the bill would shutter many programmes, from national parks maintenance and air traffic controller training programmes to the collection and publication of important data for financial markets, for the second time this year.