WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump visited on Thursday the Texas border with Mexico to emphasize what he insists is the “need” to build a wall along the boundary between the two nations amid a partial shutdown of the federal government, now in its 20th day.
Since Dec. 22, Trump has been insisting that some $5.7 billion in funding be included in the federal budget bill to build part of his much-touted border wall, a proposal that has been rejected out of hand by congressional Democrats, who control the House of Representatives.
In the face of this impasse, the president has floated the idea that he might declare a national emergency with the aim of reallocating military funding to build the wall, a threat that he repeated today on the border.
“I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,” Trump told reporters in remarks in the border city of McAllen, Texas. “The lawyers have so advised me. I’m not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to, I will.”
In recent days, various legal scholars have given opinions on all aspects of this potential move by the president, and there seems to be no clear consensus as to whether Trump has the authority to take an action of this kind.
The president’s plan to finance the wall with military funding would be done by executive order, a move that was initially seen as a radical measure among Republicans but which is now beginning to attract support from GOP lawmakers. Meanwhile, Democrats have said they will fight such a move.
Last week, the Democratic majority in the House approved two bills comprising six separate pieces of legislation to finance through 2019 the roughly 25 percent of the federal government that has been shut down and to authorize funding for the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8.
Those measures would increase funding for border fencing and other enhanced security measures by $1.3 billion, far below the $5 billion-plus that Trump is demanding.
Since Dec. 22, some 800,000 of the 2.1 million federal workers have been receiving no pay – with 420,000 so-called “essential” workers being required to remain on the job but 380,000 employees being fully idled – and dozens of national parks have been without ranger support or staffing and other government services have been halted or severely curtailed due to a lack of funding.
Thousands of those workers protested on Thursday in various cities around the country to demand an end to the shutdown, with one demonstration being staged in front of the White House.
“This lockout is yet another manufactured crisis looking to score political points,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told the hundreds of public employees who turned out to protest. “Workers are fed up. We are tired of being the ones who are always being hurt. And we are not going to take it.”
Little progress has been made over the past 20 days in finding a solution to the budget impasse, given that neither Trump nor congressional Democrats are disposed to give ground in the negotiations, and – as long as no agreement is reached – the partial government shutdown and the myriad difficulties it presents for government workers, their families and the public at large seem likely to continue, perhaps for weeks or months.