Trump, on shutdown’s 24th day, says he’s ‘not looking’ to call national emergency
President Trump on Monday seemed to back away from his threat to declare a national emergency to fund his proposed southern border wall and perhaps resolve the 24-day-old partial government shutdown, demanding instead that Democrats give him the $5.7 billion he wants.
“I’m not looking to call a national emergency,” Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn. “This is so simple, you shouldn’t have to.”
The president again insisted that he has “the absolute right” to use an emergency declaration to bypass Congress and redirect money in military accounts toward a wall, as conservative media pundits and some far-right Republicans have urged.
“But I’m not looking to do that,” he said.
Many Republicans in Congress have expressed opposition to an emergency declaration as an unwarranted exercise of presidential power, despite their eagerness to end what is now the longest shutdown in history as polls show significantly more Americans blame them and Trump than Democrats.
Democrats, Trump said, “should agree on border security” and end the stalemate. “We should get on with our lives.”
Speaking as he departed for New Orleans, where he addressed a convention of farmers, Trump claimed of Democrats that “many of them are calling and saying, ‘We agree with you,’” although he offered no names. He added “Many of them are calling and many of them are breaking. The Republicans are rock solid.”
In reality, the Democrats have stood firm behind their leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York. Republicans, however, are showing splits.
Some politically vulnerable Senate Republicans have stated publicly that they would prefer to end the shutdown and fight separately for additional border security funding, including a wall. But hard-line conservatives tell the president that would be tantamount to accepting defeat and would disappoint his supporters.
Trump said he rejected a proposal by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for lawmakers to approve a short-term funding bill that would temporarily reopen government and allow lawmakers a few weeks to negotiate without the disruption that has left about 800,000 federal employees unpaid and has shut down or reduced a variety of essential services.
Reiterating the arguments he made last week, including in a prime-time Oval Office speech to the nation and a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump repeated his claims of a crisis there that demands a sweeping federal response — claims that, thus far, have little moved public opinion or persuaded Democrats to negotiate.
“We have a very big crisis on the border, a humanitarian crisis,” Trump told reporters.
When he speaks of a humanitarian crisis, he refers to victims of crime by migrants arriving illegally — though government data show U.S. residents commit crime at much higher rates — and not to the wave of families and individuals detained in makeshift centers seeking asylum over his objections. He also describes women and children among the migrants as being exploited by human traffickers.
In New Orleans, Trump devoted a large portion of his speech at the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation to his fight over the border wall and immigration. He called a rancher, Jim Chilton of Arizona, to the stage to help make the case for a wall — “Mr. President, we need a wall,” he said — and urged the audience to call Democratic members of Congress to demand it.
Despite the applause for a wall among the assembled farmers, nonpartisan polls show that most Americans blame the president and his party for the unpopular shutdown and a majority opposes the wall, although support has ticked up over the last year.
“When it comes to keeping the American people safe, I will never, ever back down,” Trump said. As he typically does, he made false or misleading claims that cast migrants collectively as terrorists, drug traffickers and others who are “not the people we want.”
“I didn’t need this fight,” he said, insisting that Democrats are forcing it because they believe it will help them win the White House in 2020.
In Washington, for a third week, the Democrats who now control the House introduced legislation to fund and reopen the quarter of the government currently closed, but for a shorter period of time. The previous bills died in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) has said he will not allow debate on measures that don’t have Trump’s support.
The latest House bills could come to votes this week, but if passed, they also likely face doom in the Senate, given that they are much like the idea Graham proposed, and which Trump said he’d rejected.
Still, House votes would intensify pressure on congressional Republicans.
“It is critical that we reopen the federal government, and these two new [bills] offer President Trump and Senate Republicans additional options to end the shutdown while allowing time for negotiation on border security and immigration policy,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “We should pass them into law without delay.”
Times staff writer Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.
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