Some GOP Sens Hope Trump Declares Border Emergency So They Can End Shutdown

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) during a meeting with St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko on July 2, 2018. (Photo by Alexander DemianchukTASS via Getty Images)
January 8, 2019 6:46 p.m.

Some Republican senators declared support of President Trump’s threat to declare a state of emergency on the southern border in order to end the ongoing government shutdown — even as they hinted it might not actually give Trump the money for his border wall.

A number of GOP lawmakers said Tuesday evening that they’re open to Trump declaring a state of emergency, a move of questionable legal standing that would undoubtedly face legal challenges. Many said they weren’t sure if the declaration and a subsequent move to use money that was already appropriated for other military projects would hold up in the courts. But ahead of Trump’s planned address to the nation Tuesday night, many seemed eager to find any way out of the current stalemate over reopening the government.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said there were four options on the table, and suggested the only one likely to reopen the government anytime soon was an emergency declaration.

“We’ve just got four options here. The president can give in. Speaker Pelosi can give in. We could keep government shutdown, at least 25 percent of it. Or the president can pursue a legal approach. Now I don’t know which approach he’s going to pursue, but you can make a very persuasive case that we do have a national emergency on the border,” he said.

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When TPM pointed out that the only option Kennedy had suggested that didn’t involve one side caving in was the emergency declaration, Kennedy agreed.

“If you take the first two options off the table, yeah. You’ve got one option here that I see to get government back open right now unless somebody gives in, and that is the declaration of a national emergency,” he said.

Trump has toyed with declaring a national emergency for days, threatening to do so to lay claim to funds Congress already appropriated for other military construction projects in order to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Experts say he may be within his rights to declare the emergency, but attempting to use that money could be more problematic.

Both questions would likely face legal challenges, dragging the process out in the courts for much time. But it could give Trump the out he needs to declare victory while getting him out of the bind he’s put himself in by forcing a government shutdown. With Democrats refusing to budge off their refusal to authorize more than $5 billion for Trump’s wall, he may not have any other options.

That declaration would give Trump something he could try to sell as a win to his base, while giving him and Republicans enough breathing room to reopen the government without looking like they’ve completely folded. The government has been partially shuttered for weeks.

Trump reportedly won’t declare the emergency in Tuesday night’s national address, but it’s still on the table as an option.

Kennedy wasn’t the only one who suggested a national emergency declaration could give Trump an out.

Other Republicans raised concerns about the emergency declaration option, however, with some warning it wouldn’t hold up to legal scrutiny and others objecting to Trump seizing funds they’d appropriated for other projects they see as critical.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said the money Trump wants to tap for the wall “is not play money — it’s money that’s going to projects that are very important… and there’s not a lot left there to spare.”

And Rounds predicted that Trump would face lawsuits.

“I suspect that he’ll get sued if he does take that approach and then we’ll have to find out what the courts say,”

“There’s not enough money in DOD the way it is so anything he does will have to be justified.”

But Rounds said he hoped if Trump did declare a national emergency, he’d then decide to accept bills that reopened the rest of government. The Senate unanimously passed continuing resolutions

“I’m hoping so, because that would be one way in which to get pass this impasse,” he said.

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