President Donald Trump said Friday “there’s a good chance we’ll have to” declare a national emergency in order to appropriate funds to build his long-promised border wall.
A specially created Congressional committee is spending the next couple of weeks working to reach a compromise on border security with the threat of another government shutdown looming when the current short-term government funding bill expires on Feb. 15.
Trump did not say whether he will definitely resort to declaring a national emergency, but he did say it “would help the process.”
If a deal isn’t reached by the Feb. 15 deadline, Trump can either shut down the government for the second time in as many months of the new year, or sign a bill funding federal agencies and then use his executive powers to declare a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.
This could allow the president to commandeer funds that have already been appropriated by Congress for other purposes, such as disaster relief, and use them to pay for the construction of a wall.
But such a declaration would almost certainly be challenged in court. There, the administration could find it challenging to make the argument that the immigration situation on the southern border, which has not materially changed in several months, merits an emergency declaration only now, after Trump was unable to secure the needed funds from Congress.
Asked Friday if he was concerned about courts halting an emergency declaration, Trump replied, “we have very, very strong legal standing to win,” adding that it would be “very hard” for a court to enjoin the declaration.
Trump also declared several times that the wall was already being built. Trump was presumably referring to stretches of both new wall and replacement wall that were approved and paid for last year with 2018 funding, but which are slated to begin construction later this winter.
“We’re building the wall, and we’re building a lot of wall,” Trump said, “but I can do it a lot faster the other way.”
It was unclear what impact statements like these, which imply that the purpose of the national emergency would be merely to speed up construction, might have on the legal argument for a national emergency, if Trump were to declare one and it were to be challenged in court.
Trump has so far drawn a hard line in negotiations with Congress, saying he will not accept anything short of billions of dollars designated for the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has drawn a line, as well, telling reporters on Thursday, “there’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation.”
The building of a border wall was one of Trump’s core campaign promises in 2016, and his failure to do so could damage his support among his deeply loyal base. On the other hand, the past month’s battle over wall funding, and the historically long government shutdown Trump forced when Congress refused to appropriate the funds, have also hurt the president’s broader approval ratings.