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White House: Trump to sign bill, declare emergency to build wall

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi signs a $328.6 billion dollar spending bill to prevent another government shutdown at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 14, 2019. Credit: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutte/JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will declare a national emergency to allow him to find other federal funds to build southwestern border walls and agreed to sign a spending bill passed by Congress that will avert another government shutdown.

Trump will deliver remarks about "national security and humanitarian crisis on the southern border" at 10 a.m. Friday in the Rose Garden, the White House said Thursday night. 

He is expected to sign the bill and announce executive orders on shifting funds from federal accounts for drug interdiction efforts and to issue a declaration of national emergency that would allow him to use military funds. 

Trump’s surprise announcement on the national security declaration —  which he has threatened to issue for weeks  — met with swift condemnations and promises of legal and legislative challenges from Democrats and some Republicans.

Trump’s decision to take that extraordinary executive action came before the Senate passed a compromise appropriations bill to keep the government open beyond midnight Friday, when funding for nine departments and other agencies runs out.

The Senate easily passed the legislation in an 83-16 vote, with a small group including liberals such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and some conservatives voting no. The House followed suit, approving the bill 300-128, also with liberal and conservative blocs, including Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), opposing it.

If Trump signs the legislation, which is expected Friday, it will keep the government open by providing about $328.6 billion in funding through Sept. 30 for the departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies.

Trump had expressed disappointment that the compromise bill provided far less than he demanded for any type of barriers on the border with Mexico along the Rio Grande River and on Thursday began wavering on approving the legislation as he hinted he would do.

The bill provides $1.375 billion for 55 miles of border fencing, far less than the $5.7 billion for more than 200 miles of wall Trump sought. It also falls short of the Democrats’ offer of $1.6 billion that he rejected in December, launching the record 35-day government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) broke the news of Trump’s decision to sign but declare an emergency in a sudden and dramatic announcement on the Senate floor as he interrupted a speech by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

“I had an opportunity to speak with President Trump and he, I would say to all my colleagues, has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill," McConnell said. "He also will be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time.”  

McConnell, who previously has opposed such an action, added, “I indicated to him I'm going to support the national emergency declaration.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also said he backed such a declaration.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that announcement, saying the president would “take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.”

She said details about whatever action Trump would take would come later.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both accused Trump of attempting to “end run” around Congress and its power of the purse to grab federal funds for his border wall.

“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall," Schumer and Pelosi said in statement.

“It is yet another demonstration of President Trump’s naked contempt for the rule of law. This is not an emergency, and the president’s fearmongering doesn’t make it one," their statement said. "The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities.”

The ACLU and other groups also threatened to file lawsuits.

Sanders said, “We're very prepared, but there shouldn't be [legal challenges]. The president's doing his job. Congress should do theirs.”

Some Republicans questioned the wisdom of the action.

“Such a declaration would undermine the role of Congress and the appropriations process; it’s just not good policy,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “It also sets a bad precedent for future presidents—both Democratic and Republican—who might seek to use this same maneuver to circumvent Congress to advance their policy goals.”

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