President Donald Trump plans to declare a national emergency so he can bypass Congress and get the money to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
The House and Senate passed the border security bill late Thursday, funding the government and avoiding another shutdown. Trump has until midnight Friday to sign the bill, and will then likely declare a national emergency.
The bill gives him only $1.3 billion for a barrier along just 90 kilometers of the border, much less than the $5.7 billion he wanted.
Declaring a national emergency gives Trump the authority to move money from elsewhere in the federal budget and use it for a wall.
If the president does declare an emergency, Democrats and others are sure to challenge him in court, which could delay construction for years.
“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency, and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his promise to have Mexico pay for his wall,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
They say a wall would be ineffective against illegal immigration and expensive. Above all, many Democrats say there is no emergency at the border, accusing Trump of manufacturing one.
Trump has long vowed to build the border wall, saying it was necessary to block caravans of migrants coming from Central America, stop illegal drugs at the border and keep criminals from entering the United States. It was his most enduring pledge from his successful 2016 campaign for the White House, with his most ardent supporters often shouting, "build the wall!"
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, "President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border. The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border and secure our great country."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell disclosed Trump's intentions to declare a national emergency, shortly before the Senate approved the legislation that would provide funding for several major U.S. agencies through September and include the barrier money.
McConnell told the Senate, "I've just had an opportunity to speak with President Trump, and he has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill. He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time. And I've indicated to him that I'm going to support the national emergency declaration."
Some of the president’s Republican allies in Congress however have misgivings about an emergency declaration.
A congressional aide says the president could dip into $21 billion in unused military construction funds for building a wall. But the aide says that money must be used in support of the armed forces and says it is unclear whether building a wall meets that condition.
Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters earlier this week that he told Trump not to use the $21 billion for a wall.
Members of Congress and their staff worked late Wednesday to finalize the legislation crafted by a bipartisan committee tasked with finding a border security agreement.
Aside from the barriers, the legislation also includes technology upgrades for screening at border entry points, more customs officers and humanitarian aid.
"As with all bipartisan agreements, it's a product of compromise," Schumer said this week. "Each side gave a little, each side got a little."
Before the last shutdown, which started Dec. 22, Trump had forecast he would sign a short-term funding measure to keep the government open while border security negotiations continued, but he had changed his mind.
"The president must not repeat his mistakes of the recent past. President Trump, sign this bill," Schumer said.
As he considered whether to sign the bill, Trump said, "As we review the new proposal from Congress, I can promise you this, I will never waver from my sacred duty to defend this nation and its people."
Under Trump, Congress has not authorized any funding for a wall. But wall repairs and replacements for deteriorating sections along the border have been ongoing.