WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he won’t yet declare a national emergency on the U.S. southern border and instead urged Congress to “do its job” in approving border security as the partial government shutdown headed to a record fourth week.
Trump appeared to back down from his frequent statements Thursday that he might make a national emergency declaration to get around stolid Democratic opposition to using unspent disaster aid to pay for constructing a wall or barrier.
“What we're not looking to do right now is national emergency," Trump said at a White House roundtable on border security. “Congress has to do its duty. And the Democrats have to help us.”
Trump acknowledged that if he declared a national emergency for the wall, he would be sued — the ACLU has already declared it would — and that he would likely lose in the Ninth Circuit in California before it goes to the Supreme Court.
On a day that 800,000 federal employees missed their first paycheck under the shutdown, the president also said he would sign legislation passed by the Senate and House to provide back pay to those workers once government is funded and reopened.
But that was small comfort for federal workers and for anyone or any business that relies on government services as both chambers of Congress went home for the weekend, guaranteeing the shutdown will be the longest in history when it hits day 22 on Saturday.
Democrats focused on the plight of the federal workers — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) retweeted examples of paychecks with no pay and an Iowa farmer complaining he’s getting no aid set aside to help with effects of the trade dispute with China.
When lawmakers return to work next week, they will face the same stalemate that has prolonged the shutdown — Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a wall and Democrats' refusal to approve it — with little indication anyone has an clear plan on how to end it.
Trump decided not to conduct an executive action even after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) met with him and later issued a statement that said: “Mr. President, declare a national emergency now. Build a wall now.”
But at the roundtable, Trump said that if Congress can’t agree to his funding request, “I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right to do it.”
At Trump’s direction, the administration had begun to lay the groundwork for a declaration of national emergency and told the Army Corps of Engineers to look at using some of the $13.9 billion in unspent disaster relief funds for hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico, Texas and other states, as well as military construction funds, for the wall, news outlets reported.
Yet his inner circle, including his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, urged caution on the emergency declaration, according to reports.
Some Senate Republicans also objected.
“I will oppose any reprogramming of Harvey disaster funds. We worked very hard to make sure that the victims of Hurricane Harvey, their concerns are addressed and Texas is able to rebuild,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “And I think we are all together on that.”
Officials in Puerto Rico, still struggling from Hurricane Maria and its $100 billion in damage, also said diverting disaster money to the wall was “unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, both parties are beginning to worry about the impact of the shutdown.
Ten House Republicans joined Democrats in voting to fund the national parks Friday, and on the Senate floor Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “Get the government open,” and said “let’s not hold hostage” the federal employees who aren’t working or being paid.
“Count me in as one of the many in this body and the many around this country who want to ensure that we have strong border in this nation,” she said. “But also count me in as one who says that shutting down the government is not governing. Nobody is winning in this.”