By Michael Tackett and Julie Hirschfeld Davis
President Donald Trump traveled to the border Thursday to warn of crime and chaos on the frontier, as White House officials considered diverting emergency aid from storm- and fire-ravaged Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and California to build a border barrier, perhaps under an emergency declaration.
In a sign of growing unease about the partial government shutdown, some Senate Republicans came off the sidelines to hash out a deal that would reopen the government as Congress worked toward a broader agreement tying wall funds to protection for some immigrants in the country illegally and other migrants.
But before those negotiations could gain momentum, they collapsed. Vice President Mike Pence and other members of Trump’s team let it be known privately that the president would not back such a deal.
“It kind of fell apart,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was among those Republicans seeking a deal.
“It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier,” he said later in a brief statement. He added, “I hope it works.”
The administration appeared to be looking into just such a solution: using extraordinary emergency powers to get around Congress in funding the wall. Among the options, the White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether it could divert for wall construction $13.9 billion allocated last year after devastating hurricanes and wildfires, according to congressional and Defense Department officials with knowledge of the matter, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the possibility.
Administration officials are debating whether they could make such a move without the declaration of a national emergency, an action the White House counsel’s office has explored.
But Trump’s advisers, including his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, have urged him to try to find approaches other than declaring an emergency. Kushner’s role was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The advisers have warned him of a range of possible negative outcomes, particularly the risk of losing in court, people familiar with the discussions said.
Aides have suggested that Trump would be giving a dysfunctional Congress a pass from fulfilling its duties if he made an aggressive move. And some of his more conservative advisers have suggested it would be a form of government overreach that would be antithetical to conservative principles.
As the shutdown — the second longest in history — neared Day 21, Trump used a visit to a border facility in McAllen to blame the protracted shutdown on Democrats, charging that their opposition to a wall was responsible for brutal crime and violence.
“You’ll have crime in Iowa, you’ll have crime in New Hampshire, you’ll have crime in New York” without a wall, he warned.
“We could stop that cold,” he added.
Trump also repeated his demand for the money from Congress while saying that Mexico would somehow provide funds indirectly for the wall, a contradiction of what he said in December when he wrote in a Twitter post, “I often stated, ‘One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.’”
“I didn’t say they’re going to write me a check for $10 billion or $20 billion,” Trump said Thursday. “If Congress approves this trade bill, they’ll pay for the wall many times over. When I say Mexico’s going to play for the wall, that’s what I mean.”
It was among the bewildering statements that have underscored his often contradictory attempts to force Democrats to capitulate. Trump renewed his threat to declare a national emergency and build his wall without congressional approval.
“We can declare a national emergency,” Trump said. “We shouldn’t have to.”
Later, standing beside the Rio Grande with military vehicles and border agents as his backdrop, he said he would consider a compromise that would allow immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, often known as Dreamers, to maintain legal status they lost when he ended the Obama-era program that protected them.
“I would like to do a much broader form of immigration,” Trump said. “We could help the Dreamers.”
Only hours earlier, Pence had rejected such a deal, saying the president wanted to wait until the Supreme Court ruled this spring on whether the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was constitutional. “No wall, no deal,” Pence declared in a briefing with reporters on Capitol Hill. “We’re going to keep standing strong, keep standing firm.”