President Donald Trump on Monday appeared to rule out — at least for now — declaring a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, setting aside one of the White House's leading options for ending the 24-day partial government shutdown.
"Now I have the absolute legal right to call it, but I'm not looking to do that,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House.
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Trump had previously indicated he was in no rush to declare a national emergency and go around Congress to secure funds for the border wall, which he has long promised. But over the weekend, White House aides and advisers said they were still unsure how he planned to end the government shutdown.
The president’s Monday comments are the latest indication that there is no end in sight to the shutdown, which is now the longest in U.S. history. Both sides have dug in, with Trump demanding more than $5 billion for the wall and Democrats insisting that a wall is expensive, unnecessary and “immoral." As of Monday morning, there were no signs of a pending compromise, even after many federal workers missed their first paycheck on Friday.
The national emergency strategy has come under criticism from some conservatives, including key members of the House Freedom Caucus, who have warned the president that the move could set a dangerous precedent. Some Republicans have cautioned that future Democratic presidents could use it to force through progressive policies against the will of Congress.
Trump and his top aides have been seriously weighing the prospect of declaring a national emergency for days, analyzing several possible funding sources for the wall, including disaster relief money.
Though the move would inevitably face legal challenges, some advisers close to the president made the case that the declaration would send a signal to his base that he’s serious about building the wall, while giving him cover to reopen the government without looking like he caved to Democrats.
Yet, despite recent polling showing that the majority of the public blames Trump and Republicans for the shutdown, some of the president’s advisers believe there is a political advantage to the current stalemate, according to two people familiar with the matter, who argued that the push for the wall is energizing the president's base. The White House also sees an opportunity to attack Democrats for leaving Washington during the shutdown. A delegation of lawmakers went to see the musical "Hamilton" in Puerto Rico over the weekend.
"I've been here all weekend. A lot of the Democrats were in Puerto Rico celebrating something. I don't know, maybe they're celebrating the shutdown," Trump told reporters.
Trump also said on Monday that he had rejected an effort by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a staunch ally of the White House, to re-open the government while lawmakers try to reach an immigration compromise. “I did reject it," Trump said.