At border, Trump says ‘we can declare a national emergency’ over wall

McConnell blocks House legislation to reopen government

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump continued to insist he could declare a national emergency to get a border wall built on Thursday as he visited the southern border.

After arriving in McAllen, TX, the president attended a briefing with border patrol agents and then toured the border.

“Well we can declare a national emergency,” Trump said as he took questions from reporters. “We shouldn’t have to, because this is common sense.”

The president continues to try to make his case for the long-promised wall. But he has expressed his own doubts that his appearance and remarks will change any minds with heels dug in over the wall impasse.

He contends a national emergency declaration would allow him to direct the military to begin wall construction.

“So we’re either going to have a win, make a compromise - because I think a compromise is a win for everybody - or I will declare a national emergency,” he said before leaving for Texas.

The partial government shutdown dragged into a 20th day, with hundreds of thousands of federal workers off the job or working without pay.

In the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, blocked House legislation that had been passed a week earlier to reopen the government. Those bills were designed to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border operations, through early February while the while wall fight continued, and fully fund the eight other government agencies that have been closed through the shutdown.

McConnell said voting on the bills would be “absolutely pointless.”

“The political stunts are not going to get us anywhere," he added.

The president also rejected a plan spearheaded by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, to reopen the government while sending a border wall proposal to Congressional committees.

“I think we’re stuck. I just don’t see a pathway forward. I don’t see a way forward,” Graham said. “I have never been more depressed about moving forward than I am right now. I just don’t see a pathway forward.”

The Democrats see the idea of the long wall as ineffective and even immoral. Trump sees it as an absolute necessity to stop what he calls a crisis of illegal immigration, drug-smuggling and human trafficking at the border.

“They say a wall is medieval, well so is a wheel," Trump said at the briefing Thursday. “A wheel is older than a wall. The wheel is older than the wall, you know that? There are some things that work. You know what? A wheel works and a wall works.”

It’s not clear what kind of compromise could be made to end the shutdown.

Trump says he won’t reopen the government without money for the wall. Democrats say they favor measures to bolster border security but oppose the long, impregnable walling that Trump envisions.

He is asking $5.7 billion for wall construction.

Trump’s comments came a day after he walked out of a negotiating meeting with congressional leaders - “I said bye-bye,” he tweeted soon after - as efforts to reopen the government fell into deeper disarray.

Affected federal workers face lost paychecks on Friday, and more people are touched every day by the rollback of government services.

“This has to be done soon, so we get our folks paid,” Trump said at the border.

Several hundred protesters were chanting and waving signs opposing a border wall next to the South Texas airport where Trump arrived. Across the street, a smaller group of protesters shouted back, chanting, “Build that wall!”

McAllen is located in the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest part of the border for illegal border crossings.

Putting the standoff in personal terms, the president tweeted before leaving for Texas: "The Opposition Party & the Dems know we must have Strong Border Security, but don't want to give 'Trump' another one of many wins!"

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi fired back in a press conference Thursday, accusing the president of engaging in political games to fire up his base.

“I think the meeting was a set-up so he could walk out,” she said.

The White House meeting in the Situation Room ended after just 14 minutes. Democrats said they asked Trump to reopen the government but he told them if he did they wouldn't give him money for the wall.

Republicans said Trump posed a direct question to Pelosi: If he opened the government, would she fund the wall? She said no.

Trump then left.

With that, the shutdown plunged into uncharted territory with no endgame in sight. On Saturday, Washington appears certain to set an ignominious record for the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history.

Trump also went to Capitol Hill Wednesday, seeking to soothe jittery Republican lawmakers. He left a Republican lunch boasting of “a very, very unified party,” but GOP senators have been publicly uneasy as the standoff ripples across the lives of Americans and interrupts the economy.

During the lunch, Trump discussed the possibility of a sweeping immigration compromise with Democrats to protect some immigrants from deportation but provided no clear strategy or timeline for resolving the standoff, according to senators in the private session.

GOP unity was tested when the House passed the bipartisan spending bill that McConnel blocked on Thursday. Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting, defying the plea to stick with the White House.

There was growing concern about the toll the shutdown is taking on everyday Americans, including disruptions in payments to farmers and trouble for home buyers who are seeking government-backed mortgage loans - “serious stuff,” according to Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Some Republicans were concerned about Trump's talk of declaring a national emergency at the border, seeing that as unprecedented interference with the right of Congress to allocate funding except in the most dire circumstances.

"I prefer that we get this resolved the old-fashioned way," Thune said.

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