WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will sign a funding bill that will provide some money for a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border and then declare a national emergency to get more funding for a wall, the White House said Thursday.
“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.
A few minutes earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stunned lawmakers when he announced on the Senate floor he had spoken to Trump by phone and that president indicated he was prepared to sign the bill – but would at the same time declare a national emergency for additional border wall funding.
The Senate voted 83-16 on Thursday to approve the measure, which offers $1.375 billion for a 55-mile border barrier – much less than the $5.7 billion that Trump has demanded for a wall along the southern border. The money also is slightly less than the $1.6 billion and 65 miles of the Senate Homeland Security Committee voted out of committee last summer.
The House plans to vote on the bill later Thursday evening and send it to Trump.
Lawmakers must approve the bill – and Trump must sign it – by midnight Friday or federal funding will lapse, triggering another government shutdown.
At a news conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., railed against the possibility of Trump declaring a national emergency, saying Republicans “should have some dismay to the door that they are opening, the threshold they are crossing.”
“The precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be met with great unease and dismay by the Republicans and, of course, we will respond accordingly,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi said an emergency declaration opens the door for other presidents to do “an end run around Congress.”
“Just think of what a president with different values can present to the American people,” Pelosi added.
She didn’t say specifically how Democrats would respond but said that they would “review our options.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Trump declaring a national emergency would be “a tremendous mistake” and “a gross abuse of the power of the presidency” to distract from the fact that he failed to deliver on his campaign promise that he’d make Mexico pay for the wall.
But Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who voted for the bill, said he supports Trump’s plan to declare an emergency.
“The president’s not exercising any power that Congress didn’t give him,’’ Kennedy said. “Had Congress done its job instead of playing politics, he wouldn’t have to do it.”
Earlier Thursday, lawmakers were praying Trump would sign the bill. Literally.
Just after the morning prayer in the Senate, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, added a quick prayer of his own: “Let’s all pray that the president will have wisdom to sign the bill, so the government doesn’t shut down.”
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The legislation, which was released late Wednesday night, would spend $1.375 billion to fund the barrier along the Texas border. It requires the structure be made of previously deployed designs. That rules out concrete, but it can be made of steel slats.
The agreement also provides $7.6 billion for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some of that would go toward funding a goal of 40,520 detention beds by the end of the year. That number is what was previously appropriated but ICE had exceeded it, detaining closer to 50,000 people. ICE cannot use the funding to hire more people to apprehend and remove undocumented immigrants.
The bill is expected to get support from the majority of both parties but some conservatives and progressives announced they would vote no.
“The Department of Homeland Security does not deserve an increase in funding,” Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan said in a joint statement Thursday announcing their intention to vote against the legislation.
Ahead of the Senate vote, some faith leaders gathered across from the Capitol to protest funding included in the measure for a barrier and more detention beds. They urged lawmakers to instead work on legislation to better protect immigrants.
“If we have $5 billion that we can find, we ought to spend it on reunifying those children who were separated at the border instead of building a wall that’s not going to do anything for anybody except perhaps to stroke someone’s ego and someone’s racist white supremacist ideology,” said the Rev. Leslie Copeland-Tune, director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice.
The group later visited the offices of congressional leaders, including McConnell, where they prayed in the lobby.
More: How congressional Democrats could fight a Trump wall national emergency declaration
Trump’s demand for a border wall – a signature promise of his presidential campaign – was at the center of a budget standoff that triggered a record 35-day government shutdown late last year. The shutdown ended in late January when lawmakers passed a temporary funding bill to buy them time to work out an agreement on border security.
On Monday, a bipartisan group of budget negotiators from the House and Senate announced an agreement “in principle” on the border security deal.
Trump has suggested he could get the rest of the money for a wall by declaring some sort of a “national emergency” – allowing him, in theory, to use defense money for wall construction, but also inviting legal challenges from opponents who say the president lacks the legal authority to declare an emergency in this case.
Members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group close to the president, sent a letter Thursday urging him to use his executive powers to declare a national emergency and build the rest of the wall.
“The conference committee deal is bad,” the group wrote. “If you feel the need to sign the legislation, we also urge you to immediately use your authority … to access funds to begin building a much-needed border wall. “
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and other officials also have suggested another option: moving existing money from other accounts to fund walls, fences or other sorts of barriers.
Contributing: Deborah Berry, Christal Hayes
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