U.S. President Donald Trump signaled Thursday he could soon declare a national emergency and tap military construction money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border that he has been unable to convince Congress to provide direct funding for.
Trump landed in McAllen, Texas, for a firsthand look at efforts to thwart illegal immigration at the border. The U.S. leader said he would "probably" make the emergency declaration if he can't reach a deal with opposition Democrats for the wall funding. White House talks with Democratic leaders, who are refusing money for the wall, collapsed in acrimony Wednesday in the midst of a 20-day partial government shutdown centered on the dispute.
"I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency," Trump told reporters. "I haven't done it yet, I may do it. If this doesn't work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely."
"There's no reason we can't come to an agreement," Trump said, but contended "the other side doesn't care about border security."
Trump said, "We have plenty of funds (available for the wall) if there's a national emergency," but Democrats and outside groups are all but certain to file legal challenges to Trump's emergency declaration and use of military funds that have already been allocated for other projects.
"I would like to do the deal through Congress," Trump said. "It makes sense to do the deal through Congress. ... It would be nice if we can make a deal, but dealing with these people is ridiculous."
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said if the shutdown continues for an extended period, it would hurt the U.S. economy, the world's largest. "I think that would show up in the data pretty clearly," he said.
Trump's latest comments about the need for a border wall, perhaps his single biggest pledge in his successful 2016 presidential campaign, came a day after he walked out of a meeting with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when they refused to budge on wall funding, saying talking with them was a "total waste of time."
With no end in sight to the stalemate, Trump said he would not attend the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month "because of the Democrats' intransigence on Border Security and the great importance of Safety for our Nation."
Pelosi said Thursday that "right now there's a path" to solving the impasse: "open up the government and then we can have the discussion about border security," a scenario Trump has rejected.
Before leaving for the southern U.S. border, Trump said on Twitter there is "GREAT unity" among Republican lawmakers who support him keeping a quarter of the federal government closed over his demand for more than $5 billion in new funding for a wall, "despite the Fake News Media working in overdrive to make the story look otherwise." Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new funding for border security, but none for a wall.
A small number of Republicans have questioned Trump's refusal to reopen the agencies that have been shuttered since Dec. 22, a nearly three-week closure that is the second longest in U.S. history, two days short of a new record. Some government services have been curtailed, with about 800,000 federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay. All will miss their first paycheck Friday.
Hundreds of the furloughed workers protested the shutdown in Washington street demonstrations.
Senate Republicans on Thursday again blocked Democratic attempts to approve legislation to reopen agencies that have nothing to do with border security, because Trump opposes the measures.
Trump said, "The Opposition Party & the Dems know we must have Strong Border Security, but don't want to give 'Trump' another one of many wins!"
After Trump walked out of the Wednesday meeting, Schumer said Trump had a "temper tantrum," a characterization Trump rejected.
"Cryin Chuck told his favorite lie when he used his standard sound bite that I 'slammed the table & walked out of the room. He had a temper tantrum,'" Trump tweeted.
Trump's visit to Texas is scheduled to include border security briefings as well as stops at a Border Patrol station and the area along the Rio Grande.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection data indicate the Rio Grande Valley sector is where in recent years agents have apprehended by far the most people trying to illegally cross into the country. In 2017, it accounted for 44 percent of border apprehensions.
Texas rights groups opposed to Trump's demand for border wall funding and his immigration policies are planning a demonstration at McAllen's airport.
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents McAllen in Congress, said he is glad Trump is visiting the district, but that what the United States needs is intelligent spending that brings real security to the region.
"You'll see one of the safest communities in the state and in the country. You will see that we don't need a wall," Gonzalez said in a video message Wednesday. "What we need to do is figure how we're going to fill the 7,500 vacancies in our Customs and Border Patrol. We need to use technology to secure the border."
Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both Texas Republicans, are traveling with Trump and say the border wall is necessary.
In his successful run for the presidency in 2016, Trump often called for construction of a concrete wall and said Mexico would pay for it. But with Mexico refusing, Trump has unsuccessfully sought congressional approval for U.S. taxpayer funding of the barrier, which he now says would be steel slats.