WASHINGTON (Gray News/AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says President Donald Trump has indicated he’s prepared to sign the government funding bill to avert another partial government shutdown – and that the president plans to declare a national emergency on the border.
McConnell made his announcement from the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, saying he planned to support the president’s national emergency declaration.
“I’ve just had an opportunity to speak with President Trump, and he would, I would say to all my colleagues, has indicated that he’s prepared to sign the bill," he said. "He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time. And I’ve indicated to him that I’m going to prepare -- I’m going to support the national emergency declaration. So for all of my colleagues, the president will sign the bill. We’ll be voting on it shortly.”
The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 83 to 16 Thursday afternoon. The bill then moved to the House, where it passed by a vote of 300 to 128 Thursday night.
Because the bill passed before Friday at midnight, another partial government shutdown has been averted – if Trump signs the measure.
The president is expected to sign it. He’s also expected to use executive action – including a national emergency declaration – to increase funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which CNN reports he’ll announce Friday at 10 a.m. ET during a Rose Garden event, which is scheduled for Trump to deliver “remarks on the national security and humanitarian crisis on our southern border.”
Trump is set to announce $8 billion in wall funding through executive action, a White House official told CNN.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement Thursday afternoon confirming Trump will sign the funding bill and “take other executive action – including a national emergency."
“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. The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke soon after McConnell’s announcement that Trump would declare a national emergency, characterizing the purported emergency at the border as one of Trump’s own making.
Speaking on the one-year anniversary of the Parkland mass shooting, Pelosi said gun violence in the U.S. is the real national emergency that needs addressing.
The House speaker said she may file a legal challenge to the president’s declaration.
“That’s an option, and we’ll review our options,” Pelosi said. “But it’s important to note that when the president declares this emergency, first of all, it’s not an emergency, what’s happening at the border. It’s a humanitarian challenge to us. The president has tried to sell a bill of goods to the American people.
“The president is doing an end-run about Congress, about the power of the purse. You’ve heard me say over and over again, Article 1, the legislative branch: the power of the purse, the power to declare war, many other powers listed in the Constitution, and of course the responsibility to have oversight. So, the president is doing an end-run around that.”
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer later released a joint statement decrying the possible emergency declaration as “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."
The statement continues: “It is yet another demonstration of President Trump’s naked contempt for the rule of law. This is not an emergency, and the president’s fearmongering doesn’t make it one. He couldn’t convince Mexico, the American people or their elected representatives to pay for his ineffective and expensive wall, so now he’s trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it. The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Trump has the legal authority to make the declaration, and that he would support the move.
Other Republican lawmakers seemed less certain.
“Clearly I have concerns about using this declaration for this set of circumstances,” said Sen. Roy Blunt.
“I generally don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Sen. Marco Rubio.
Blunt and Rubio said they’d need to see the details of the declaration.
The compromise measure passed by the Senate keeps departments running through the fiscal year but without the $5.7 billion Trump wanted for the border wall with Mexico.
Trump has threatened on multiple occasions that he might use such a declaration to build the wall. A dispute between Trump and Democratic lawmakers over wall funding led to nine federal agencies being shuttered for 35 days in December and January, the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history.
In recent weeks, the president said there was a “good chance” he’d make the move, which is expected to face legal challenges.
“I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency, the lawyers have so advised me,” Trump has said.
The attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, has already said he would challenge the wall in court if the president declared a national emergency to get one built.
It is unclear what immediate effect the emergency declaration will have on wall construction, or where the emergency funds will be drawn from. According to The Washington Post, the administration could target as much as $10 billion provisioned for “military construction projects” under the National Emergencies Act.
Congress, however, could still override the order.
Trump has maintained a wall is necessary to resolve what he has characterized as an immigration crisis at the border. Democrats have criticized the president for, they say, manufacturing that crisis.
Trump’s decision to sign the spending bill, however, would end a raucous legislative saga that commenced before Christmas. Bargainers formally completed the accord moments before midnight Wednesday night.
A sizable number of both parties’ members voted “yes” on the spending bill Thursday. The only residue of suspense is whether Trump, despite statements saying he will go along, might reject the package and inject a fresh blast of chaos into the issue.
The fight over the last shutdown left both parties dead set against another one. That sentiment weakened Trump’s hand and fueled the bipartisan deal, a pact that contrasts with the parties’ still-raging differences over health care, taxes and investigations of the president.
The product of nearly three weeks of talks, the agreement provides almost $1.4 billion for new barriers along the boundary. That's less than the $1.6 billion for border security in a bipartisan Senate bill that Trump spurned months ago, and enough for building just 55 miles of barricades, not the 200-plus miles he'd sought.
Notably, the word "wall" — which fueled many a chant at Trump campaign events and then his rallies as president — does not appear once in the 1,768 pages of legislation and explanatory materials. "Barriers" and "fencing" are the nouns of choice.
The compromise also squeezes funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in an attempt to pressure the agency to gradually detain fewer immigrants. To the dismay of Democrats, it would still leave an agency many of them consider abusive holding thousands more immigrants than it did last year.
The measure contains money for improved surveillance equipment, more customs agents and humanitarian aid for detained immigrants. The overall bill also provides $330 billion to finance dozens of federal programs for the rest of the year, one-fourth of federal agency budgets.
Trump has talked for weeks about augmenting the agreement by taking executive action to divert money from other programs for wall construction, without congressional sign-off. A possible national emergency declaration has drawn opposition from both parties. Trump has also said he might invoke other authorities to tap funds targeted for military construction, disaster relief and counterdrug efforts.
Those moves could prompt congressional resistance or lawsuits, but would help assuage supporters dismayed that the president is yielding.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, who leads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters “it would be political suicide” if Trump signs the agreement and did nothing else to find added money.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, is taking a wait-and-see approach for now.
“It’s too early for me to know what he’s going to do statutorily," the freshman senator said. "Will take a look at what he does. Review it thoroughly and decide at that point.”
“I think it’s a mistake,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME.
"The National Emergencies Act was contemplated to apply to natural disasters or catastrophic events such as the attacks on our country on 9/11. For the President to use it to repurpose billions of dollars that Congress has appropriated for other purposes that has previously signed into law, strikes me as undermining the appropriations process, the will of Congress and being of dubious constitutionality.”