No immediate plan to declare national emergency for border wall, Trump says

WASHINGTON — President Trump cast fresh doubt Friday on whether he would declare a national emergency to build a wall along the southern border, leaving lawmakers waiting for the president’s next move as the government shutdown was poised to become the longest in US history.

‘‘What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,’’ Trump said Friday, surrounded by law enforcement officials at a White House roundtable. ‘‘I’m not going to do it so fast.’’

Trump reasserted his right to build border walls via an emergency declaration, a move that would bypass a deadlocked Congress in which Democrats have blocked any new wall money. But he said he wanted to give lawmakers more time to act and did not offer a timetable for a decision.


The comments marked a shift from earlier Friday when Trump appeared on the brink of declaring a national emergency. The president has said repeatedly in recent days that he might do so, and his administration had asked agencies to begin preparations.

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Lawmakers from both parties had speculated that a national-emergency declaration could clear the way for an end to the shutdown that, at 22 days long Saturday, would become the lengthiest the nation has ever endured.

For now, Trump’s apparent retreat on the emergency declaration leaves the impasse in place, with no obvious way to resolve it and no real efforts underway to do so. The Senate adjourned for the weekend on Thursday and House lawmakers left town Friday, with no new negotiations scheduled.

Large parts of the federal government have been without funding since Dec. 22, and the partial shutdown’s effects have multiplied as the lapse has dragged on. Friday marked the first missed paycheck for many of the approximately 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed or working without compensation. And the White House has scrambled to find ways to keep the partially shuttered government functioning, a rapidly shifting and often improvised process.

For example, after an intense lobbying campaign by the mortgage industry, the Treasury Department this week restarted a program that had been sidelined by the shutdown, allowing hundreds of Internal Revenue Service clerks to collect paychecks as they process forms vital to the lending industry.


Because of the shutdown, the IRS was unable to process a key form that lenders use to confirm borrowers’ incomes before they can grant home loans, a roadblock that threatened to bring the mortgage industry to a halt.

Meanwhile, Trump’s seeming ambivalence over an emergency declaration mirrored disagreement within his own party.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he met with Trump on Friday and emerged from the meeting with a clear directive for the president.

‘‘Mr. President, declare a national emergency now,’’ Graham said in a statement. ‘‘Build a wall now.’’

But Trump has gotten sharp pushback from the idea, even from Republicans.


‘‘I think the president should not do it,’’ Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told reporters Friday.

Other prominent Republicans on Friday expressed alarm that Trump might try to divert funds from disaster-recovery projects in places such as Texas and use it to build the border wall. Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said he vigorously opposed using any of the money that had been appropriated by Congress to clean up damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

‘‘We worked very hard to make sure that the victims of Hurricane Harvey, their concerns are addressed and Texas is able to rebuild. And I think we are all together on that,’’ Cornyn said.

Trump’s lawyers have also privately warned the president he could be on shaky footing with an emergency declaration, according to people familiar with the discussions.

With a White House decision in flux, Congress made no progress toward a deal. The Democratic-led House held its final votes of the week Friday, including on a measure to ensure that federal workers who are furloughed or working without compensation receive back pay once the government reopens.