President Donald Trump warned Wednesday he might declare a national emergency at the southern border to access funding for his proposed border wall, a move that would take the wall out of frozen negotiations to end the partial government shutdown.
“We’re all working together. I really believe the Democrats and the Republicans are working together,” Trump said during a bill-signing event in the Oval Office, according to a pool report.
“Otherwise we’ll go about it in a different manner,” he added. “I don’t think we’ll have to do that, but you never know.”
Asked what would be his threshold to declaring a national emergency, Trump flatly said he would do so if he cannot make a deal with congressional Democrats.
Democratic members and experts say an emergency declaration would trigger a steady stream of lawsuits. And some Republicans say it would unnecessarily complicate the president’s quest for a border barrier.
Watch: Trump’s border wall address vs. Democrats’ response
Earlier Wednesday a cryptic White House counselor Kellyanne Conway suggested that “progress” is being made in the negotiations and that the White House wants shutdown negotiations to take a “piecemeal” approach by focusing individually on the parts of what Trump called a “crisis” Tuesday night in an address to the nation.
Negotiators should “start with just the drugs, or we start with just the kids,” she said during a gaggle outside a West Wing. “To see if we can identify the problems together, and then get to the solutions.”
The president on Tuesday night, in his first Oval Office prime time address, said of the shutdown talks he wants to “get this done” in a Wednesday afternoon Situation Room meeting with congressional leaders.
Asked by Roll Call if that means Trump will put something new on the table to move the talks beyond the current stalemate, Conway replied: “He’s got a lot on the table.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t see the same progress as the presidential adviser on Wednesday, though, blaming a lack of progress in border security negotiations on the White House continuously changing its position on what it will accept.
“The White House seems to move the goal post every time they come with a proposal. ... Pretty soon these goal posts won't be in the stadium,” she said.
Pelosi reiterated that Democrats will support border security measures that are actually needed, like technology improvements, and have been willing to negotiate with the White House on funding such tools.
“There is a path here, but it is not one the administration wants to take,” she said.
Trump has misled the public about the threat at the border and the effectiveness of a wall in combating it, Pelosi said.
“If the president is going to go on and on about a mischaracterization ... if he’s going to misrepresent the nature of that challenge, then we have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, the evidence does not support the threat that you are describing,’” she said.
Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin said he met with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan Wednesday morning to let him know the ramifications if Trump did declare a national emergency, which budget and legal experts say would allow Trump to access already appropriated but “unobligated” Pentagon dollars for the border barrier project.
“I cautioned him that if President Trump directs DoD to circumvent Congress in such a legally dubious way on such a major issue, Congress will have to reevaluate its relationship with the department and judge whether each instance of broad flexibility granted to the Department is worth the risk of abuse by President Trump,” Durbin said in a statement.
Conway cryptically suggested a deal might be closer than conventional wisdom and all evidence suggests
“I think we’re actually making progress,” Conway said. “It feels that way. It feels differently.”
Conway cited a Fox News interview from earlier Wednesday during which she said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez “put a little give in there” by saying his party will support “reasonable” border security measures.
She also tried to knock down a New York Times report that Trump is less than excited about the White House public relations offensive that includes the Tuesday night address and a Thursday trip to the U.S.-Mexico border aimed at increasing public support for his border wall.
“He is enthusiastic” about the communications strategy “or he wouldn't go,” Conway contended. “He’s been to the border. His whole point is he doesn’t need to go to the border to know there's a crisis. But he is going.”