As of Tuesday afternoon, President Trump was reportedly still undecided about whether to follow through on his threat to declare a national emergency on the southern border, opening up the possibility of using unobligated military funds to build a border barrier. The president was reportedly unlikely to make such a declaration as part of his address to the nation. But Vice President Mike Pence said Monday that, while the administration would prefer to resolve the shutdown through talks with Congress, the White House was still considering the possibility of an emergency declaration.
Such a move would be challenged immediately in court and could result in a lengthy legal battle, with Democrats arguing that there is no border crisis. Even so, a declaration could make sense for political reasons, as a face-saving way for Trump and Republicans to wriggle out of the shutdown jam without conceding defeat in the fight for a wall. A legal fight would allow Trump to keep the wall issue alive, while ending the unpopular shutdown.
Support for an emergency declaration is growing among Congressional Republicans, Politico reports, adding that some GOP leaders and White House officials see it as a way out of a fight they’re losing: “Trump allies believe it would send an unmistakable message to the president's base that he’s dead serious about border security. And GOP leaders on Capitol Hill also know support for the shutdown is slowly eroding inside the party, as more moderate Republicans call for an end to the crisis.”
Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments, calls the idea “the best of several bad options” for Trump. “Whether there’s really an emergency is hotly debated, of course, and this tactic could quickly get bogged down in litigation and controversy over spending Pentagon money designated for other uses,” Valliere wrote in a note to clients Tuesday. “But that's not the point – this gambit could provide an exit strategy for the president, putting the immigration issue on the back burner for a while. It also could extricate him from the shutdown, which threatens to divide the GOP.”
The bottom line: As long as the shutdown goes on, the pressure on Trump will only continue to build. Declaring a national emergency would dramatically up the constitutional stakes of the standoff. Valliere offers a guess as to how this all might end: “the shutdown will become increasingly unpopular and will end by late next week, with Trump getting $2 or $3 billion for unspecified border security, with treatment of ‘Dreamers’ liberalized, while keeping alive the litigious option of shifting Pentagon funds to construct a barrier. Will a real wall get built? No time soon.”