It sure sounds like President Trump plans to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress and divert billions of dollars for construction of his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I think there’s a good chance that we’ll have to do that,” Trump told White House reporters on Friday.
Trump’s latest comments come a day after he dismissed negotiations by a bipartisan group of 17 lawmakers working against a February 15 deadline to strike a deal on government funding and border security. Trump called those talks “a waste of time” if they did not deliver funding for his wall. And in an interview with The New York Times, Trump reiterated that he thinks the talks are a waste of time, but said he’ll wait until February 15 before taking action. “I’ve set the table. I’ve set the stage for doing what I’m going to do,” he said.
Slate’s Jim Newell offers a clear distillation of the options and outcomes — “all bad” — that Trump now has in the border wall fight given Democrats unyielding insistence that they won’t provide money for a wall:
1. Accept a Deal: Trump could agree to sign whatever deal the congressional committee reaches, if they reach one — and then spin it as a win. “This would allow him to at least argue that by holding out and shutting down the government, he secured a modest increase in border security funding,” Newell says. Trump, and the rest of us, could move on. But the president would surely face criticism and mockery for such an abrupt turn after months of insisting that real border security demands nothing less than a wall. Pelosi essentially presented Trump that option on Thursday, suggesting he could call additional fencing on the border a wall if he wants. Trump seemed to shoot that down, insisting that a deal won’t work without a wall.
2. Shut It Down: Trump could threaten to veto any compromise that doesn’t include wall funding, potentially forcing another government shutdown. “At first, this option would seem to be prohibitively stupid,” Newell suggests. “But if the stupidity of the position is felt just strongly enough in Washington, it could allow him to get out of the situation without caving—by forcing congressional Republicans to override his veto.” Republican lawmakers would be in a difficult position, stuck between the rage of Trump’s loyal base and the political disaster of another shutdown. Overriding Trump’s veto would keep the government open — and let Trump brand them as “weak” for not sticking with him.
3. Go to Court: The politics of a national emergency declaration would be ugly. “The polling on declaring a national emergency to build the wall is lightning-hot garbage, and that’s reflected in the hesitancy among many congressional Republicans to endorse the move,” Newell adds. But it still might be Trump’s best way to escape the corner he’s backed himself into with his wall demands. And while some Republicans have cautioned that an emergency declaration would set a dangerous precedent that could be used by Democratic presidents in the future, party leaders probably wouldn’t mind moving on from the standoff over the wall and the threat of another shutdown.
An emergency declaration would inevitably be met with immediate legal challenges that could tie up any wall construction for years. Trump on Friday said he had the legal authority to make an emergency declaration. "We have very, very strong legal standing,” he claimed. Some legal experts disagree.
Either way, a court battle would allow Trump to move on from the prolonged impasse while keeping the politically potent wall issue alive for the 2020 campaign cycle. That might make it the most palatable option for Trump, who’s been mulling it over for weeks — and had top White House officials reportedly making preparations for a declaration as a fallback option early this week, even before the bipartisan border security committee had even held its first official meeting.