Trump says he's not declaring national emergency for now, calls it 'the easy way out' of border wall fight

On Friday workers missed pay. Saturday the shutdown becomes the longest ever.

January 11, 2019, 5:54 PM

On Day 21 of the partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump signaled Friday he's not inclined to declare a national emergency "so fast" – calling that “the easy way out” – even as he continued to assert he has the "absolute right" to do so if congressional Democrats keep refusing to pay for the wall Trump wants on the U.S. border with Mexico.

On Saturday, the shutdown becomes the longest ever.

"What we're not looking to do right now is national emergency, what we want to do, we have the absolute right to do it, in many ways it’s the easy way out, but this is up to Congress, and it should be up to Congress, and they should do it,” the president said Friday during a roundtable discussion on border security.

But even as he expressed his strong preference to reach a deal with Congress, he also made clear that he will go forward with an emergency declaration should he fail to gain congressional approval.

"If they can't do it, I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right to do it,” he said.

But as the third week of the partial government shutdown came to a close, the two sides were no closer to finding any common ground after negotiations fell apart during a White House meeting Wednesday.

Even Republican senators on Friday offered conflicting advice to the president over whether he should go ahead and declare an emergency.

Trump ally and new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, met with the president at the White House on Friday afternoon and in a tweet afterward wrote, "Mr. President, Declare a national emergency NOW. Build a wall NOW."

PHOTO: Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington after his meeting with President Donald Trump, Dec. 30, 2018.
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington after his meeting with President Donald Trump, Dec. 30, 2018.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

But other Republicans have warned the president against using his executive power to circumvent Congress and use funds allocated to the military to build a wall, saying it would set a dangerous political precedent.

"I think the president should not do it. I think as a member of Congress I ought to be very selfish about the constitutional powers that we have to appropriate money. I think it might be a bad precedent," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Friday morning to CNN.

"For people on my side of the aisle, one of the concerns we should have is if today the national emergency is border security, and it entitles him to go out and do something — we all support that," Sen. Marco Rubio, a Flordia Republican, told CNBC.

"Tomorrow. the national-security emergency might be climate change, so let's seize the fossil-fuel plants or something. Maybe it's an exaggeration, but my point is we've got to be very careful about endorsing broad uses of executive power."

GOP Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah Rob Portman of Ohio both said they don't want the president to declare a national emergency.

Democrats, meanwhile, have vowed to introduce a resolution to overturn any emergency declaration and have promised quick court challenges if he makes the move.

As of Friday, there were no negotiations scheduled and no end in sight to the current impasse between Trump and congressional Democrats over border wall funding, with the government shutdown tying the record for the longest in American history.

At the same time on Friday, thousands of the more than 800,000 federal workers furloughed missed their first scheduled paychecks during the shutdown.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump tours the U.S. border with Mexico at the Rio Grande on the southern border, Jan. 10, 2019, in McAllen, Texas.
President Donald Trump tours the U.S. border with Mexico at the Rio Grande on the southern border, Jan. 10, 2019, in McAllen, Texas.
Evan Vucci/AP

The president traveled to McAllen, Texas, on Thursday to draw attention to his continued demands for $5.7 billion for a wall along the southern border, repeating that if negotiations broke down, he was likely to declare a national emergency to secure funding.

The White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to find money designated for disaster relief projects for the wall, sources tell ABC News.

On Friday, the president laid the groundwork to his potential claim of a national emergency by tweeting about the situation he observed while on the border.

"Humanitarian Crisis at our Southern Border. I just got back and it is a far worse situation than almost anyone would understand, an invasion! I have been there numerous times - The Democrats, Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy don’t know how bad and dangerous it is for our ENTIRE COUNTRY," Trump wrote, referring to his standoff with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"The Steel Barrier, or Wall, should have been built by previous administrations long ago. They never got it done - I will. Without it, our Country cannot be safe. Criminals, Gangs, Human Traffickers, Drugs & so much other big trouble can easily pour in. It can be stopped cold!" He continued.

Vice President Mike Pence was briefed Friday by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, and the Chief of U.S. Border Patrol Carla Provost. Afterward, he addressed Customs and Border Patrol employees in an effort to "boost morale," according to an aide.

"While some in the public debate say this is a manufactured crisis, I expect the men and women in uniform here and those that might be looking on know the truth of it," he said. The vice president said 27,000 people crossed the border in December, at the highest levels seen since the president took office. "It is putting an extraordinary burden on us border patrol and customs officers."

“We have a humanitarian crisis on our southern border and it demands action by Congress,” Pence said. He added that the administration will continue to "keep fighting to build the wall and give you the resources you need to do your job."

Pence told the officers gathered, all of whom are working without pay, that at the president's direction the administration has "taken steps to mitigate the impact of this partial shutdown," adding that the House had passed legislation to ensure back pay when the government reopens.

"We're going to continue to work to end this shutdown but we're going to continue to stand to get you the resources you need," Pence said.

Democrats have said, however, that they will not capitulate to the president's demands for wall funding in order to reopen the government.

The Senate and House adjourned Friday until next week, meaning the partial government shutdown will continue until then at the earliest.

ABC News' Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

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