Congress

Democrats could sue if Trump declares national emergency over wall, Hoyer says

Majority leader says technology, more personnel at border would be more effective than barrier

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., applauds for reporters who used to attend his press briefings as minority leader, during his first briefing of the 116th Congress as majority leader. ( Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Democratic leadership has not yet discussed what their reaction would be if President Donald Trump were to follow through on his threat to declare a national emergency on the border to build his wall, but he said a lawsuit is certainly a possibility.

Hoyer reiterated Democrats’ opposition to a border wall and said they’re not really interested in alternative barriers either. He said experts have said neither a wall nor fencing is what’s really needed at the border but rather technology, drones and more personnel.

Democrats and Republicans remain at an impasse over border security funding and seem unlikely to reach a compromise soon to reopen the government, which has been partially shut down now for 18 days. 

Trump is insisting on $5.7 billion for a wall, which he said this weekend can be built out of steel, not concrete. Democrats do not want to provide any funding toward a wall, and the most they’ve offered is re-upping the $1.3 billion provided in fencing in fiscal 2018 for the current fiscal year. 

Trump will deliver an address to the nation Tuesday night from the Oval Office on what he’s calling the “crisis” at the border. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced Wednesday that they’ll deliver a response immediately following the conclusion of Trump’s address from the hallway space right outside the speaker’s balcony in the Capitol.

“Now that the television networks have decided to air the President’s address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime,” they said in the statement Tuesday evening.

The Democratic leaders had dispatched staff this weekend to meet with Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials in meetings that both sides acknowledge were limitedly productive. 

Hoyer said the weekend staff talks yielded little progress on reopening the government. The Republicans did provide more specifics, but they did so asking for more money, he said.

“They didn’t come toward a comprise, they went toward more,” Hoyer said.

The weekend talks did yield productive discussion about technology to screen vehicles and people crossing the border, which Hoyer described as  an alternative “really which all of us could agree on.” 

Hoyer also talked about Democrats’ plan to move individual appropriations bills this week to reopen portions of the government, designed to put pressure on Republicans. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “has the ability to put these bills on the floor and say, ‘We’re not the president’s handmaidens,’” Hoyer said.

On Wednesday, for example, the House will vote on the Financial Services appropriations bill, which funds the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service, so that the agencies can be reopened to process tax refunds in a timely manner. 

The shutdown would have cost taxpayers $140 billion in tax refunds, but the Trump administration has decided to call furloughed IRS workers back to process them in “what we think is illegal for him to do because he wants to act like a dictator,” Hoyer said, referring to Trump.

Democrats want to reopen government before continuing negotiations on border security, but will not be deterred by Republicans’ refusal to do so, he said.

“We are going to daily urge and take efforts to reopen the government,” Hoyer said.

Schumer: Trump Holding Federal Employees ‘Hostage’

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.