WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday he would not, at least for the moment, declare a national emergency to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border, instead demanding that opposition Democrats agree to fund the barrier construction.
“This is so simple,” Trump told reporters at the White House as left to speak at a farm convention in New Orleans. “The Democrats are stopping people from getting paid” — 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay during the 24-day partial government shutdown.
Trump rejected a call by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of his staunchest congressional supporters, to end the longest government closure in American history and reopen shuttered agencies for three weeks while he holds more talks with Democratic leaders about his plan for a wall along the 3,200-kilometer southern U.S. border.
“I’m not interested,” Trump said.
“We’re talking about border security,” Trump said. “Who could be against it? We have criminals (crossing the border). We have gangs. The Democrats don’t want to do anything about it.”
But there was no end in sight to the stalemate as Democrats have refused to budge in their opposition to Trump’s call for more than $5 billion in funding for the wall. They have offered $1.3 billion in new border security money, but none specifically for a barrier.
«I’ve been waiting all weekend,» Trump said on Twitter. «Democrats must get to work now. Border must be secured!»
The U.S. leader contended that the top congressional Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, «can end the Shutdown in 15 minutes.»
«At this point it has become their, and the Democrats, fault!» he tweeted, although Trump said a month ago that he would proudly «own» the shutdown in a fight over border security.
Congress returns to business Monday, although Trump ridiculed 30 Democratic lawmakers for flying over the weekend to Puerto Rico, the sunny U.S. island territory in the Caribbean, for a charity performance of the hit Broadway show «Hamilton,» while he remained in snowy Washington.
Late Sunday, Trump, in one of a string of tweets, quoted an editorial by conservative commentator Pat Buchanan saying, «The Trump portrait of an unsustainable Border Crisis is dead on,» and contending that if the border is not defended «the United States, as we have known it, is going to cease to exist.»
Trump finished with his own comment: «The great people of our Country demand proper Border Security NOW!
Sen. Graham’s idea
Earlier Sunday, Graham had told Fox News Sunday he would still support a presidential emergency declaration to build the border wall without congressional authorization after giving talks another chance.
«I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off,» Graham said.
Graham echoed Trump by blaming the three-week long government shutdown on Democrats — specifically Pelosi, who joked she would give Trump money for a border wall — $1.
«How do you negotiate with the speaker of the House when she tells you even if you open up the government, we are not going to give you but $1 for the wall? So until that changes, there’s not much left except the national emergency approach,» Graham said.
Declaring a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexican border would allow Trump to spend the $5 billion he wants for a wall without congressional approval — a move Democrats would immediately challenge in court.
Most Democrats say they agree on the need for border security, but say there is no national security crisis and believe a wall would be an impractical waste of money.
«I do think if we reopen the government, if the president ends this shutdown crisis, we have folks who can negotiate a responsible, modern investment in technology that will actually make us safer,» Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said on Fox.
Coons blamed the impasse on border wall funding that led to the shutdown on Trump. He said the president had accepted a border security package that included money for a wall, then changed his mind. «The only crisis here is one that’s been created by the president’s abrupt change in position at the end of last year in the last days of a Republican-controlled Congress,» Coons said.
He added that Trump should test the Democrats’ willingness to compromise by making the concessions he is willing to make clear to everyone.