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Cornered: Trump escalates shutdown crisis

Donald Trump i...

Posted: Jan 7, 2019 9:33 PM
Updated: Jan 7, 2019 9:33 PM

Donald Trump is threatening to burst out of his dead end on the government shutdown by wielding sweeping presidential power to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and build his border wall.

Trump's gambit comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gears up to pile political pressure on the GOP this week with a set of bills designed to open shuttered agencies and show that Democrats can provide credible government.

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But since the Republican-led Senate will only act on a deal that Trump will sign, the parties remain as estranged as ever as the shutdown heads into a third week with hundreds of thousands of government workers unpaid.

"We're looking at a national emergency because we have a national emergency -- just read the papers," Trump told reporters at the White House on Sunday.

Trump's threat is a characteristic move from a President who often tries to escape a crisis by igniting an even bigger controversy, hoping to throw his enemies off balance and disguise his own vulnerable position.

But such a declaration could ignite a legal and political firestorm if he goes ahead, escalating the bitter showdown over the wall and his hardline immigration policies into a constitutional duel over executive power.

Talks over the weekend involving congressional staffers and led by Vice President Mike Pence failed to make meaningful progress toward ending the standoff. Trump is demanding more than $5 billion in wall funding before agreeing to reopen the government. Democrats have offered about $1.5 billion for border security, but no taxpayer dollars for a wall, which the President promised Mexico would pay for.

Both sides appear to be digging deeper into a showdown that is exacerbated because it is the first test of wills in the new era of divided government after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives last week.

"This shutdown could end tomorrow, and it could also go on for a long time. ... It's really dependent on the Democrats," Trump said on Sunday.

But the Democrats are refusing to talk about Trump's wall while the government remains partially closed.

"There's no requirement that this government be shut down while we deliberate the future of any barrier, whether it's a fence or a wall," said Democratic Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin on "Face the Nation" on CBS.

"This is the first President in history who shut down his own government," he said.

The extent of disagreement was reflected in differing accounts of the fruitless attempts to negotiate a deal coming from each side.

A source in Sunday's meeting involving Pence, White House staffers and congressional aides told CNN's Manu Raju there was no real discussion about a dollar amount that could help unpick the deadlock.

And a Democratic source familiar with the talks said the administration could not provide a full accounting of how Trump would spend his billions of dollars as requested.

A House GOP leadership aide said, "Democrats were given what they asked for, which was a detailed, breakdown list of the administration's proposals for border security that include the wall and other border protection measures."

How shutdowns end

Government shutdowns usually end when one or both sides in the dispute start to feel intolerable political pain and take steps to end it.

So far, that point has not been reached in the current standoff.

The President, who has made few attempts to broaden his support in office appears to most fear a backlash from conservative media and his own base that is passionately in favor of his promise to build a wall.

He may be less vulnerable to anger in the political middle ground of America than most presidents as the devastating effects of no paychecks, closed national parks and curtailed government services start to build.

Trump also does not seem that troubled by the plight of locked out government workers -- who he once said were mostly Democrats anyway.

In a news conference on Friday, the President suggested, without evidence, that many government workers want the government to stay closed until he gets wall money.

Democrats are also yet to feel a compelling reason to end the shutdown. Few want their new House majority to begin by handing Trump a win, and since Trump said before Christmas he would be proud to shut down the government, they believe that he will get most of the blame.

But the longer the shutdown goes on, there must be some danger that Democrats come to be seen as just another example of Washington dysfunction -- in a way that taints their hopes of a fast start in the House.

Does Trump have the power to go it alone?

Given Trump's volubility, it is not always easy to judge whether his threats -- like declaring a national emergency to fund the wall -- are negotiating tactics, serious gambits or just ideas that occur in the spur of the moment.

But a bold claim of presidential power would be in line with his tendency to test the limits of his executive authority and his impatience with constitutional constraints.

Opinion in Washington is divided on whether Trump actually has the power to barge ahead on his own on the wall -- despite opposition in Congress.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Trump could not "execute" on his "threatening talk."

"If Harry Truman couldn't nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this President doesn't have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border. So, that's a nonstarter," Schiff said.

But Rep. Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was asked whether Trump had such authority on "This Week" on ABC.

"Unfortunately, the short answer is yes," he said in the belief that Trump could declare an emergency in order to use Defense Department dollars in a building project as had been done in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Smith also warned: "I think the President would be wide open to a court challenge saying 'Where is the emergency?' "

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders came unstuck on this score when she was challenged on "Fox News Sunday" over the White House claim that 4,000 known or suspected terrorists had come into the United States and that the most vulnerable access point was the southern border.

In fact, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the figure represents individuals blocked from traveling or entering the United States, often at airports and does not necessarily refer to the southern border.

If Trump does make good on his threat to declare a national emergency, he would be on contested ground.

He would arguably be seeking to use unchecked executive power to subvert a coequal branch of government that has thwarted him in carrying out a personal political crusade.

And he would again be accused of using the military to further his own ends, as he was when he sent troops to the border region last year.

US law does give a President the authority at times of national emergency to defer Army construction plans that are not essential to national defense and to apply the resources to civil works projects that meet that test.

But such power is generally seen to be limited to a time of war or genuine national crisis. Trump's declaration would likely face a legal challenge on the grounds that the situation at the border does not meet that sudden contingency. The judiciary and Congress also have the right to challenge a President's definition of a national emergency.

Such a power play would also come at a time when there are already worries about the President's impulsive leadership.

Constraints on Trump are weakened by the departure of moderating influences in his administration, like former Defense Secretary James Mattis.

He is currently being served by an acting defense secretary, an acting attorney general, an acting White House chief of staff and a White House counsel's office that is regarded as understaffed.

Such aides may lack the authority or the desire to question the legality or wisdom of the President's actions.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 445047

Reported Deaths: 5955
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin924911470
Ramsey39703735
Dakota32788331
Anoka30811360
Washington20004225
Stearns17775185
St. Louis13546240
Scott1189996
Wright11548102
Olmsted1035775
Sherburne815765
Carver691436
Clay648478
Rice600166
Kandiyohi552871
Blue Earth538033
Crow Wing479673
Otter Tail453464
Chisago449732
Benton416785
Winona386246
Douglas372466
Nobles366746
Mower362328
Goodhue343657
Polk327756
McLeod323144
Morrison310043
Beltrami308746
Lyon299835
Itasca282643
Becker281738
Isanti281141
Carlton278143
Steele27119
Pine265113
Freeborn241320
Todd230929
Nicollet223336
Brown213734
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Le Sueur208515
Cass206123
Meeker198533
Waseca188816
Martin169126
Wabasha16883
Roseau165316
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Redwood139227
Renville136539
Houston135313
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Fillmore12215
Wadena119416
Rock109512
Sibley10797
Aitkin107133
Watonwan10618
Faribault104615
Pennington97715
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Murray8655
Jackson85010
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Pope7355
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Stevens6978
Clearwater68514
Lac qui Parle65616
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Wilkin6229
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Lincoln4821
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Unassigned43468
Grant4257
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Kittson37019
Red Lake3164
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Lake of the Woods1801
Cook1130

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 303065

Reported Deaths: 4267
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk45335447
Linn17673274
Scott15356163
Black Hawk13648236
Woodbury12945175
Johnson1202149
Dubuque11300149
Pottawattamie8934112
Dallas881171
Story863434
Webster467471
Cerro Gordo462968
Sioux453356
Clinton448361
Warren437538
Marshall425561
Buena Vista391529
Muscatine386177
Des Moines380641
Plymouth348868
Wapello340898
Jasper319658
Lee313530
Marion301752
Jones269649
Henry263230
Carroll253034
Bremer242048
Crawford228122
Boone216217
Washington214231
Benton208544
Jackson190831
Mahaska190736
Tama185657
Dickinson184226
Delaware172236
Kossuth170543
Clay166019
Wright162724
Fayette159522
Buchanan158023
Hamilton157829
Winneshiek154819
Harrison154462
Hardin153929
Cedar151419
Clayton150748
Butler146424
Page143715
Cherokee138127
Floyd137936
Mills136016
Lyon133632
Poweshiek132324
Hancock128824
Allamakee126827
Iowa122822
Calhoun12209
Grundy120026
Jefferson119524
Madison11869
Winnebago118229
Mitchell115634
Louisa114130
Cass112541
Chickasaw110512
Emmet110231
Sac110215
Appanoose109638
Union108122
Humboldt104219
Guthrie102224
Shelby101326
Franklin101218
Unassigned9210
Palo Alto9019
Keokuk84325
Montgomery84022
Howard82519
Monroe80518
Clarke7817
Pocahontas77211
Ida73830
Greene6887
Davis68721
Adair68620
Lucas6468
Osceola6349
Monona63316
Worth5983
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Van Buren49412
Decatur4784
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Wayne41421
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