Trump to Sign Border Bill, Declare Emergency for More Wall Money
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump will sign compromise spending legislation that would avert another government shutdown and declare a national emergency to get more money for a border wall from other parts of the federal budget.
“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,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
After getting word from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote on the plan at 3:30 Washington time Thursday. The House is set to vote later in the evening.
Democrats threatened to challenge an emergency declaration by Trump in court and some Republicans had sought to steer the president away from such an action by shifting money in other accounts. But McConnell said he “indicated to him I’m going to support the national emergency declaration.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that an emergency declaration could set a precedent that a Democratic president could take similar action in the future on an issue such as gun violence. She said Democrats would review their legal options.
Although the deal was crafted by Republicans and Democrats and leaders of both parties predicted easy passage, some GOP senators had balked at voting on the bipartisan measure until they got a clear signal from the president that he would sign it.
"Nobody wants to enter into a pointless exercise if the president will veto this,” Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said before McConnell’s announcement.
The plan provides $1.375 billion for 55 new miles of fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, far short of the $5.7 billion in wall money the president sought to fulfill a campaign promise, and provides funding for nine federal departments through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. Trump’s administration has been examining how to use executive authority to shift money from other government accounts to put more money into border barriers.
Friday Midnight Deadline
The spending measure must be passed by both chambers and signed by the president before midnight Friday to avoid a shutdown of about one-fourth of the government.
In December, Trump refused to back a short-term bipartisan spending plan, after initially suggesting he’d support it even though it lacked the wall money he wanted, after conservative pundits and lawmakers criticized him. That prompted a 35-day government shutdown that ended Jan. 25 when Trump accepted a short-term spending bill without extra wall funding.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, said after the bill was introduced late Wednesday that the plan would allow Trump to construct only existing styles of border barriers. Democrats also see victories in increased funding for humanitarian aid at the border, alternatives to detention and aid to Central America.
The bill would give federal civilian workers a 1.9 percent pay raise, overriding a pay freeze signed by Trump during the shutdown. It also would fund a new polar ice-breaker for the Coast Guard.
Republicans touted that the bill provides 55 miles of barrier in the Border Patrol’s highest priority areas, a $942 million increase to Customs and Border Protection for 800 new officers, and $615 million for new equipment at ports of entry. It includes a total of $22.54 billion for border security, according to the statement from Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby’s office.
Democrats successfully pushed to exclude some areas in Texas from fence construction, including the National Butterfly Center and a SpaceX launch pad, and to give local officials more say in placement of the fencing.
The Appropriations panel’s top Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said that he and Shelby "understand how grownups have to act in the Congress."
However, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other newly elected progressive Democrats who’ve been bucking party leadership said they’d vote against the compromise. They objected to giving more funding for the “abusive’’ agencies on the front line of immigration enforcement: Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Congressional Republicans have been pointing Trump to pots of federal money he could tap for a wall to steer him away from using a politically difficult emergency declaration to bypass Congress, a strategy sure to be challenged in court.
The president was pressured by his conservative allies to use executive action to bypass Congress to build the wall.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said there would be no “political liability” from conservatives if he signs the measure and “also takes executive action.”
Other possible sources of money include military construction funds, Army Corps of Engineers projects, and money forfeited by convicted criminals. Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma said he warned Trump not to touch military construction funds, but he could live with using Army Corps funds.
The measure would fund through Sept. 30 the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as independent agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.
Democrats said the bill provides $1 billion for the Census while housing programs will get a $1.3 billion boost. As a bargain with Trump on infrastructure remains elusive, the package includes $1.2 billion more for such purposes.
--With assistance from Laura Litvan.
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