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With GOP divided over move, Trump holds off on declaring emergency to build border wall

"I'm not going to do it so fast," the president said at a border-security roundtable at the White House Friday.
Image: US President Trump participates in a roundtable discussion on border security and safe communities
Democrats have said they may sue the president if he invokes his emergency powers and shifts money from projects already approved by Congress to fund the wall.Shawn Thew / EPA

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that he will give Congress more time to bend to his will on a border wall, as a partial government shutdown over the impasse nears record-length.

"What we're not looking to do right now is a national emergency," Trump said of proposals under consideration to unilaterally expand his authority and potentially free up money that he needs to begin construction of new barriers on the U.S. border with Mexico. "I'm not going to do it so fast. ... We want Congress to do its job."

His remarks came during a White House roundtable on border security, one of several events focused on the issue this week that included a primetime address to the nation and a visit by Trump to the U.S.-Mexico line in Texas.

Democrats have said they may sue the president if he invokes his emergency powers and shifts money from projects already approved by Congress to fund the wall, and some Republicans on Capitol Hill have questioned whether such a move by Trump would be an appropriate use of his authorities as president or a wise one.

"The real concern that I have is the precedent that this then sets because this border security is Donald Trump's priority," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. "We don't know who the next president may be, but it may be a president where their No. 1 priority is dealing with climate change who says 'I don't care whether I have support of the Congress, I'm going to direct these funds to address this because I feel like this is a crisis.'"

"I think there's a precedent argument that can be made that we need to be very clear about, but I also think there's the reality that there is a question about whether or not the president can do this," she added.

But Republicans remain divided over the question.

Trump's remarks Friday came just hours after Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., emerged from a meeting with him to publicly plead for a national-emergency declaration.

"Democrats will do everything in their power to defeat Trump in 2020," Graham said in a statement released to the media. “Mr. President, declare a national emergency now. Build a wall now.”

Trump said Friday that he is ready to declare an emergency if Congress — which is out of session until next week — doesn't add wall money to shutdown-ending legislation that is stalled because it doesn't include money for the barrier, and that he anticipates a court fight if he goes that route.

"If they can't do it, I will declare a national emergency. It will be brought to the Ninth Circuit," he said, referring to the federal appellate court. "And then hopefully we will win in the Supreme Court."

Democrats, who control the House and retain enough votes in the Senate to sustain a filibuster, have called on Trump to agree to bills that would end the shutdown, but they have refused to earmark money to build a border wall.

The current shutdown will set a record when it enters its fourth week on Saturday, eclipsing the three-week lapse in funding that ran from December 1995 to January 1996. The House and Senate have both passed a bill that would guarantee back pay for furloughed federal workers, and Trump said Friday he would sign it into law.