Vice-president Mike Pence said Donald Trump has yet to decide whether he will declare a national emergency over his demand for a wall along the southwest border – the key sticking point in negotiations over the partial government shutdown that has affected 800,000 federal employees.
White House counsel is reviewing whether the president has the ability to declare a national emergency in the current situation, Pence told reporters at a media briefing on Monday. He added that the administration would prefer to secure the funding for border security from an agreement with Congress.
“What I’m aware of is that they’re looking at it and the President is considering it,” Pence said during the briefing alongside homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Office of Management and Budget acting director Russell Vought in Washington.
But asked whether Trump has made up his mind on declaring a national emergency as a way to bypass congressional approval and move ahead with spending public money on construction of the wall, as the president has repeatedly threatened in recent days, Pence replied: “He’s made no decision on that.”
Such a move would all but certainly invite legal challenges. Trump nevertheless declared on Monday that there was”no doubt” he had the legal authority to declare a national emergency but said “let’s get our deal done in Congress” despite the impasse with the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives over the matter.
As the shutdown stretches into its third week, the Internal Revenue Service announced on Monday that it would process tax returns beginning 28 January 2019 and would provide refunds to taxpayers despite the shutdown. The agency said it would be recalling some of its furloughed employees to process the filings.
Amid the tense stand-off in Washington, Trump announced he would make his public case for $5.7bn in funding to build a border wall during a rare prime-time national televised address on Tuesday night from the Oval Office followed by a visit to the border on Thursday.
“President @realDonaldTrump will travel to the Southern border on Thursday to meet with those on the frontlines of the national security and humanitarian crisis,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, announcing the visit on Twitter. It is not yet known which part of the 1,989-mile border, which crosses four US states, Trump plans to visit or what he plans to do there.
Negotiations between Democratic congressional leaders and the White House are at a stalemate with both sides dug in over the wall after fraught meetings last week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the wall “immoral” and refuses to budge on providing taxpayers’ funding for it.
As a first act, the newly-empowered House Democrats passed legislation last week to re-open the government while congressional leaders and the administration continued to debate border security. But the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said he would not take up legislation the president did not support.
House Democrats have vowed to pass a series of smaller spending bills that would individually fund federal agencies, a strategy that is unlikely to move Republican leadership.Senate Democrats are, meanwhile, threatening to block any legislation that does not reopen the federal government as a way to pressure McConnell to bring up a government funding bill for a vote in the Senate.
Pence had convened senior administration officials and congressional aides for a series of meetings over the weekend, which he described as productive. A Democratic aide said there was no progress was made.
At the briefing on Monday, reporters asked the vice-president why Trump’s $5.7bn demand is so much more than the administration sought only a few months ago. He replied: “Things have gotten a lot worse.”