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by | Feb 14, 2019 | Current Events, Government, News, Politics | 0 comments

President Trump plans to declare a national emergency so he can bypass Congress and build his long-promised wall along the border even as he signs a spending bill that does not fund it, the White House said Thursday.

The announcement of his decision came just minutes before the Senate voted 82-16 to advance the spending package in anticipation of final passage on Thursday night by the House.

Mr. Trump’s decision to sign it effectively ends a two-month war of attrition between the president and Congress that closed much of the federal government for 35 days and left it facing a second shutdown as early as Friday, but it could instigate a new constitutional clash over who controls the federal purse.

“President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

“The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” she added, as Trump prepared to approve legislation allocating about a quarter of the money he sought for barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border.

If Trump follows through, lawmakers and the White House would dodge their second partial shutdown since December, sparing about 800,000 federal workers from more financial pain. But the emergency declaration could quickly spark lawsuits challenging the president’s authority, creating yet another fight over his key campaign promise.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “may” file a legal challenge and will review her options, she told reporters Thursday.

“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall,” she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Thursday. They added: “This is not an emergency, and the president’s fearmongering doesn’t make it one.”

The emergency declaration would allow Trump to redirect funds from other parts of the government to the project without congressional approval. The move could in part assuage conservative critics who argued the president should not accept the latest congressional plan, which denied him the funding he demanded for the border barrier.

He had threatened the action for weeks, splitting the GOP caucus as some Republicans argued it would set a dangerous precedent. Trump repeatedly cast the emergency declaration as a decision rather than a necessity, which could weaken his legal case for the move.

“I don’t think this is a matter that should be declared a national emergency,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska. “We as legislators are trying to address the president’s priority. What we’re voting on now is perhaps an imperfect solution, but it’s one we could get consensus on.”

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said, “We have a government that has a Constitution that has a division of power, and revenue raising and spending power was given to Congress.”

Mr. Trump disregarded objections raised by Mr. McConnell and other Republicans who balked at what they deemed presidential overreach. Conservative lawmakers and commentators said that such a move would set a precedent for a liberal president to claim the same power to take action on issues like climate change or gun control without congressional consent.

But Mr. Trump ultimately could not see any other way out of his standoff with congressional Democrats over the border wall without shutting down the government again. The first government shutdown prompted by the wall fight deprived 800,000 employees of their paychecks, sapped the president’s standing in the polls and ended only when Mr. Trump gave up last month without getting a penny of the $5.7 billion he had demanded.

Asked Thursday whether the White House is concerned about the precedent the emergency declaration sets, Sanders responded: “Let’s hope we don’t have additional national security and humanitarian crises.”

The White House has identified $2.7 billion it could potentially redirect, according to Reuters. While it is unclear where the money would come from, Trump has previously suggested he could take it from the military.

Democrats immediately prepared to advance legislation that would curtail the president’s abilities to use certain funds after a national emergency declaration.

A group of Democratic senators — including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, all aspiring presidential nominees — collaborated on a measure to prevent Mr. Trump from using funds appropriated for disaster relief to pay for border wall construction.

Mr. Trump made the wall his signature promise on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, where he was cheered by supporters chanting, “Build the wall,” only to be frustrated that he was unable to do so during his first two years in office, when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.

Even with Congress’s left and right flanks grumbling, a solid majority of lawmakers has signaled support for the package, with Republicans and Democrats unwilling to court another shutdown less than 48 hours before funding for nine cabinets and multiple federal agencies is set to expire.

The Homeland Security section of the measure allows for 55 miles of new steel-post fencing, but prohibits construction in certain areas along the Rio Grande Valley. More than $560 million is allocated for drug inspection at ports of entry, as well as money for 600 more Customs and Border Protection officers and 75 immigration officers.

It includes a provision, pushed by Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas and the only negotiator from a border district, granting communities and towns on the border a period of time to weigh in on the location and design of the fencing. The White House finds that provision objectionable.

The bill also prohibits funds from being used to keep lawmakers from visiting and inspecting Homeland Security detention centers, following a number of highly publicized instances where Democratic lawmakers tried to visit detention centers and were turned away.

Lawmakers were also pulled in by the other six parts of the spending package, which finance a number of agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, which is in the middle of tax-filing season, and the Commerce Department. Allocations include $77 million for addressing the opioid epidemic and funds to address natural disasters, including nearly $4 billion to wild-land fire programs and $12.6 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund.

The package also negates an executive order that Mr. Trump signed to freeze pay for federal civilian workers, and instead extends a 1.9 percent pay increase. Vice President Mike Pence, cabinet officials and other high-level political appointees will also receive raises, about $10,000 a year, which were frozen during the shutdown.

Negotiators failed to resolve other matters, including back pay for federal contractors caught in the middle of the shutdown and an extension of the Violence Against Women Act, which expires Friday — although grants under the act are funded in one of the spending bills.

All but one of the 17 House and Senate negotiators signed off on the final package. Representative Tom Graves, Republican of Georgia, refused to sign, saying he was given no time to digest the seven spending bills. But he did not rule out voting for the bill on the floor.

“Maybe the policy is good, maybe it’s not,” Mr. Graves wrote on Twitter. “I’ll work through this ahead of the final vote later today.”

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