WASHINGTON, December 17, 2018 — The uncertainty of looming government shutdown on December 21 will be on full display on Wednesday morning when Congress reconvenes for a last-ditch attempt to tackle the seven remaining must-pass appropriations bills to fund the government for fiscal year 2019.
At the White House, where President Trump said last week that he’d be “proud” to shut down the government should the House and Senate decline to fund his proposed wall along the order with Mexico, administration officials appeared slightly less excited about the prospect of putting roughly 800,000 federal employees out of work days before Christmas.
“We don’t want to shut down the government,” said White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp. “But we’ve got to find increased spending for border security.”
The president, Schlapp said, is “very focused” on obtaining the $5 billion he says is necessary in order to follow through on building a border wall that he promised, during the presidential campaign, would be paid for by the government of Mexico.
Although the administration may be striking a more optimistic and conciliatory tone leading into Wednesday’s negotiations, one former administration official who is close to Trump told BeltwayBreakfast that the president is not bluffing and remains fully prepared to embrace a shutdown if he does not get what he believes is necessary to secure the southern border.
“He has no problem taking responsibility for a government shutdown if he can’t negotiate with these guys,” said the former official. “They’ll ride it out for as long as it takes.”
Former Trump official says that a shutdown is not likely
Responding to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who on Sunday accused Trump of blocking a bipartisan deal with a “temper tantrum,” the former official was confident in the president’s ability to bend Democrats to his will.
“He can hit the target and he doesn’t blink,” he said. “He’s going to get the other guy to blink.”
Marc Short, who handled the administration’s relations with Capitol Hill until this past summer, acknowledged that the administration has “a lot to figure out” in the coming days. But he discounted the predictions of doom, gloom, and furloughs.
“I’m not convinced we’ll end up there,” he said, referring to the possibility of a shutdown.
Short pointed out that even if negotiations fail and funding lapses, the parts of the government that have been fully funded through the end of fiscal year 2019 are those that normally cause the most headaches. Those include the Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services that manages Medicare and Social Security.
Short also noted that the partial nature of any potential shutdown could allow for an extended stalemate, in which affected agencies remain closed without much disruption to the general public.
“The average person, I think, will not be impacted,” he said.
One member of Congress doesn’t think a shutdown will be catastrophic
One member of Congress who concurs with Short’s assessment is Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C, who noted that the portion of the government that would cease operations in the event of a funding lapse is relatively small in the grand scheme of things.
“You take out interest, you take out entitlement spending, you take out the large [appropriations] bills that have already gone through, we’re talking about only 8 percent of federal spending.”
A shutdown would mean Sanford, who is departing Capitol Hill for the second time after losing his seat to a primary challenger, is leaving the House in a similar condition to how he found it when he arrived in 1995 — in the throes of a shutdown crisis prompted by clashes between then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, and President Bill Clinton.
Sanford said the root causes of the 1995 funding lapse and the shorter ones seen under President Trump are the same.
“Strongly held opinion and disagreement leads to an impasse and a shutdown,” he said.
He acknowledged a major difference between the past and present situations, noting that in 1995, Republicans had a Democratic president to content with, whereas now they control both the executive and legislative branches.
“Typically you don’t see shutdowns on the same team, it’s usually Republicans versus Democrats that leads to a shutdown,” Sanford said.
“It’s certainly curious, odd, and different that it comes this way, but we are where we are.”
Trump Declares National Emergency After He Doesn’t Get His Way With Border Wall Funding
WASHINGTON, February 15, 2019 — President Donald Trump on Friday reacted to Congress’ refusal to fully fund his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border by invoking emergency powers which purportedly allow him to “reprogram” federal funds without the consent of Congress.
“Today I am announcing several critical actions that my administration is taking.”
“We’re going to confront the [national security] crisis on our souther border,” Trump said, adding: “Everyone knows that walls work,” Trump said, citing Israel’s security barrier along the West Bank in the Middle East.
Trump called the idea that most illicit drugs come into the U.S. through ports of entry a “lie” despite statistics from his own Department of Homeland Security which show that most illicit drugs are seized at ports of entry.
“You can’t take big loads through ports of entry,” Trump said. He also suggested that human trafficking was not possible through ports of entry because border agents would see women who are “tied up in the trunk.”
“It’s all a big lie, it’s a big con game. You don’t have to be smart to know you put up a barrier… and people can’t come in until they go right or left and there’s no barrier.”
Trump said that his declaration was not a significant departure from precedent because other presidents had used the National Emergencies Act many times since 1976, when it was signed into law by then-President Gerald Ford.
“It’s been signed many times before. They sign it, nobody cares, I guess they weren’t very exciting.”
“We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” he said, citing the existence of “Angel Moms,” a designation for mothers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. The designation was created by anti-immigrant group the Remembrance Project.
“So we’re going to be signing a national emergency,” Trump said, calling it “a great thing to do” because of the “invasion” from our country.
He also suggested that China’s drug policy was superior to the United States’ because China executes drug dealers.
Friday’s announcement, the likes of which Trump has openly considered for months, will undoubtedly set up a confrontation between the executive branch and both the legislative and judicial branches as Congress seeks to retain its own constitutional authority over the public purse.
While Congress has seen fit to appropriate only $1.375 billion for border barrier construction, White House Acting Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said that the declaration will allow Trump to redirect three “pots of money.”
These include 600 million from the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s anti-drug efforts, and $3.6 billion from the Pentagon’s construction budget, regardless of Congress’ express intentions.
A senior administration official said the total of $8 billion will allow Trump to order construction of approximately 234 miles of “bollard wall” barrier.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted the president’s decision in a statement Thursday.
“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall,” they wrote
“It is yet another demonstration of President Trump’s naked contempt for the rule of law. This is not an emergency, and the president’s fear-mongering doesn’t make it one. He couldn’t convince Mexico, the American people or their elected representatives to pay for his ineffective and expensive wall, so now he’s trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it. The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities.”
Even some Republicans criticized the decision and suggested it exceeded the president’s constitutional authority.
“We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement Thursday.
Maine Senator Susan Collins noted in a statement that the National Emergencies Act, the 1976 law the White House is making use of, was intended for natural disasters or terror attacks.
“It is also of dubious constitutionality, and it will almost certainly be challenged in the courts,” she added.
Collins’ and Rubio’s convictions may be put to the test if Pelosi and House Democrats pass a so-called “resolution of disapproval” to terminate the emergency, which would force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to hold a vote on the resolution.
McConnell had previously spoken out against the idea of Trump declaring a national emergency on the border, but changed his tune Thursday after the president told him that he’d be signing the appropriations bill needed to stave off another government shutdown.
While Democrats warned that Trump’s invocation of the National Emergencies Act could create a precedent for future Democratic president to follow to take action on gun control or climate change, a senior administration official said Trump’s declaration “creates zero precedent.”
“The president is not waving a magic wand,” the official said, adding that the authority to declare a national emergency has been on the books since 1976.
When asked whether the president was claiming he had authority to ignore specific prohibitions against use of appropriated funds for wall construction, the official claimed that the use of reprogrammed funds in violation of Congress’ prohibition is permissible because those prohibitions do not apply to the previously-appropriated funds the president will be reprogramming.
“This is common authority,” he said.
McConnell Says Trump to Sign Funding Bill, Declare National Emergency at Border
WASHINGTON, February 14, 2019 — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday said that President Donald Trump will sign legislation to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, but will declare a national emergency to attempt to repurpose already-appropriated funds for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that the president will both sign legislation to fund the government and “take other executive action – including a national emergency – to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.”
“The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” she added.
The decision to declare a national emergency will set up a confrontation with members of Congress, some of whom are protective of the legislative branch’s power to appropriate funds.
Under the National Emergencies Act, if either the House or Senate passes a so-called resolution of disapproval, the other chamber must hold a vote on the same resolution.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that she “may” challenge the president’s forthcoming declaration in court.
“I’m going to review our options” she said, calling Trump’s decision “an end-run on Congress.”
Pelosi added that the current situation at the border “is not an emergency,” and cautioned that Trump could be setting a dangerous precedent.
“The precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be greeted with great unease and dismay by the Republicans and we’ll respond accordingly,” she said.
Sanders later told reporters that the White House is “very prepared” for a legal challenge, but said there shouldn’t be any.
“The president is doing his job, Congress should do theirs, she said.”
Sanders Won’t Rule Out Another Shutdown, Leaves Open Possibility of Compromise Bill Veto
WASHINGTON, February 13, 2019 — President Donald Trump has not yet ruled out shutting down the government if he is unhappy with the compromise bill Congress plans to send him, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.
“We want to see what the final piece of legislation looks like,” Sanders said when asked about several media reports which indicated that the president would sign the bill, which has been assembled over the past few weeks by a House-Senate conference committee.
“It’s hard to say definitively whether or not the president is going to sign it until we know everything that’s in it.”
Sanders admitted there were “some positive pieces” in the proposed appropriations bill, which provides just over a billion dollars for improvements to existing fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, but rejected the idea that funding levels in the bill are similar to the deal the president blew up in December after being criticized by right-wing talk radio hosts.
She also stressed that a shutdown is “not what [Trump] wants,” but attempted to preemptively blame Democrats for any shutdown the president might cause by refusing to sign the bipartisan legislation.
“If [a shutdown] happens again, that will be because the Democrats completely failed to do their job and work with the president to secure our border.”
A decision by the president to veto the compromise legislation could lead the Congress to attempt to override that veto.
But the president has indicated that rather than veto the funding, he may take the constitutionally-questionable route of using executive authority to “reprogram” money appropriated for other purposes to build his wall, which was a centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign but is overwhelmingly opposed by a majority of Americans.
Still, Sanders dismissed the suggestion that by attempting to reprogram already-appropriated funds — a decision which would almost certainly be challenged in the courts — the president was planning to “go it alone.”
“Most people across the country know that we need border security and the biggest responsibility the president has is to protect the people of this country,” she said. “I think he’s got the support of Americans all over this country and I’d hardly say that’s going alone.”