Trump may declare an emergency to build wall
Trump administration officials made an urgent case that the situation at the US-Mexico border has reached a crisis level, laying the groundwork for President Donald Trump to possibly declare a national emergency that would empower him to construct a border wall without congressional approval.
With the federal government partially shut down amid his stalemate with Congress, Mr Trump attempted to bolster the administration's position in a prime-time address to the nation from the Oval Office - the first of his presidency.
He will then travel tomorrow to visit the nation's southern border.
"There is a humanitarian and national security crisis," Vice President Mike Pence told reporters, a line he and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen repeated several times.
Mr Pence also said he expected attempted crossings by undocumented migrants to "dramatically increase" as winter gives way to spring.
Many immigration experts, however, have said the Trump administration is exaggerating the security threat at the border and amplifying data in misleading ways or with outright falsehoods.
Vexed by Democrats' refusal to yield to his demand for $5.7bn (€4.97bn) for wall funding, Mr Trump increasingly views a national emergency declaration as a viable, if risky, way for him to build a portion of his long-promised barrier, according to senior administration officials.
Although Mr Trump has made "no decision" about a declaration, Mr Pence said, lawyers in the White House Counsel's Office are working to determine the president's options and prepare for possible legal obstacles.
Such a move would be a fraught act of brinkmanship at the dawn of a newly divided government, sparking a firestorm with House Democrats and certain challenges in federal courts.
But Mr Trump believes forcing a drastic reckoning by executive action may be necessary, given the Democratic resistance and the wall's symbolic power for his core voters, officials said.
"We will oppose any effort by the president to make himself a king and a tyrant," House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said during a visit to the border.
"The president has no authority to usurp Congress' power of the purse."
Jeh Johnson, who served in the Obama administration as secretary of homeland security and general counsel of the Defence Department, said the laws Mr Trump could invoke with his national emergency declaration are designed to authorise military construction projects during wartime.
He said using them for a border wall could curtail presidential powers in the years to come as lawmakers react to Mr Trump and work to constrain him.
"The danger of using an authority like this and stretching it beyond its intended use is that Congress could then take it away, and it could not be used in situations where it's really needed," Mr Johnson said.
Robert Bauer, a White House counsel under former president Barack Obama, said Mr Trump would be poorly positioned to defend such an action in federal courts, in part because his statements about the wall have been contradictory and have contained provable falsehoods.
"He has fatally compromised his ability to defend this," Mr Bauer said.
"He has so politicised the issue, and he has been so reckless in his presentation of what the stakes are that he walks into court with two strikes against him, the ball about to break over the plate, and he's swinging too late."
Mr Trump could theoretically use the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to declare an emergency, activating executive authorities including the reprogramming of some Defence Department funds.
Mr Trump first mentioned the possibility of declaring a national emergency on Friday, telling reporters in the Rose Garden: "I may do it."
"We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly. It's another way of doing it," he said.
In private conversations with advisers at a senior staff retreat at Camp David and back at the White House, Mr Trump said he may soon declare a national emergency unless he is able to secure funds from Congress to build a wall, according to two officials involved in those discussions. (© Washington Post Service)