US Politics

Donald Trump threatens national emergency in ‘next few days’ over wall and government shutdown

  • President heads for Camp David as talks drag on in Washington
PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 1:24am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 9:28am

US President Donald Trump said he may declare a national emergency over immigration, to allow him to build a wall on America’s southern border.

As the government shutdown triggered by the president entered its third week, Trump threatened to take extraordinary action to bypass Congress, where Democrats refuse to pass a spending bill that would give him US$5.6 billion to build his wall.

New House speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the wall “an immorality” and refused to fund Trump’s signature campaign pledge.

By declaring a state of national emergency, the White House thinks it will be able to unlock money without congressional approval, although it has given no specific details of the move.

Adam Schiff, a Democratic leader on Capitol Hill, declared the idea “a non-starter”.

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, the California representative said: “If Harry Truman couldn’t nationalise the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn’t have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion dollar wall on the border. So that’s a non-starter.”

The 1976 National Emergencies Act grants a president powers to take unilateral acts in times of crisis. But it also outlines congressional checks and with Democrats controlling the House, an attempt to make such a move would be fiercely and legally contested, potentially pitching the US into constitutional crisis.

Leaving the White House for Camp David on Sunday, Trump claimed that many of the 800,000 federal staff either working without pay or told to stay at home “agree 100 per cent with what I’m doing”.

“I may decide a national emergency depending on what happens over the next few days,” he said, insisting: “I have tremendous support within the Republican party.”

Vice-President Mike Pence took part in talks on Sunday, although the meeting was due to include congressional aides rather than leaders and it is not clear that Pence has authority to offer any deal. Little progress was reported.

As he boarded Marine One, Trump cited human-trafficking and claimed “there has never been a time when our country was so infested with so many different drugs”.

“Everybody’s playing games but I’ll tell you this, I think the Democrats want to make a deal,” he said. “This shutdown could end tomorrow or it also could go on for a long time.”

Trump said on Friday the shutdown could go on for years. The president’s language over the nature of the wall also continues to shift.

“The barrier or the wall can be of steel instead of concrete if that works better,” he said.

“I intend to call the head of United States Steel and a couple of other steel companies to have them come up with a plate or a design … we’ll use that as our barrier.”

He claimed the wall “will pay for itself many times”.

Meanwhile, the shutdown was having wide-reaching effects.

About 800,000 federal employees are furloughed or working without pay. Key services including E-Verify, which allows employers to check the immigration status of employees, are either down or, like food stamps that help 38 million people, facing cuts.

Courts and airports are feeling the strain, national parks are short-staffed, museums and galleries are closed.

It was however reported that one federal attraction was still manned: the clock tower at the building which houses Trump’s Washington hotel.

Trump tweeted about the wall early on Sunday, quoting past comments in support of a barrier by former president Barack Obama, whose name he misspelled, and Senator Hillary Clinton and insisting the wall will end illegal border crossings and crime.

“The only reason they do not want to build a Wall is that Walls Work!” Trump tweeted.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg