Trump says he will 'probably' declare national emergency as he heads to border during government shutdown

Key Points
  • President Trump heads to Texas as he pledges to make no concessions on his proposed border wall.
  • Already fraught talks to end a partial government shutdown crumbled Wednesday when the president walked out of a meeting with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
  • The shutdown was in its 20th day Thursday with no resolution in sight, leading to a messaging battle between Republicans and Democrats.
President Trump willing to declare national emergency to get border wall
President Trump willing to declare national emergency to get border wall

President Donald Trump, heading to Texas on Day 20 of a partial government shutdown, promised on Thursday to hold firm to his pledge for a border wall.

The president showed no signs of relenting on his demand for more than $5 billion to build part of a barrier on the border. In a string of tweets in part responding to a morning television host, Trump said "I won't" cave on the wall demand.

Trump tweet

The message came a day after talks to reopen nine federal departments crumbled. Trump walked out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after the top U.S. representative rejected his request for border wall money. The breakdown has massive stakes for the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who will start to miss paychecks Friday if lawmakers fail to fund the government. If the standoff continues Friday, the shutdown will have tied as the longest in U.S. history.

Trump flew to McAllen, Texas, on Thursday morning to draw attention to what he claims is a "humanitarian crisis" at the southern border. The president has used horrific tales of murder and drug abuse to make his case for a wall — prompting Democrats to accuse him of falsehoods, exaggerations and fear mongering for political purposes.

Trump has teased the possibility of declaring a national emergency to build the border barrier without congressional approval. On Thursday, he argued he has an "absolute right" to do so, but the move would likely face a swift challenge in the courts. He could potentially use the journey to McAllen, a busy border area, as part of his justification for the action.

"If [a deal with Congress] doesn't work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely," Trump said of declaring a national emergency as he left the White House for Texas.

President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for a visit to the U.S. southern border area in Texas from the White House in Washington, January 10, 2019.
Carlos Barria | Reuters

A quick resolution appears hopeless as Republicans and Democrats entrench. Democrats want the Senate to approve House-passed measures to temporarily reopen the government — without wall money — and allow border security talks to continue. Trump has threatened to veto the proposals, and the GOP-held Senate has pledged to oppose anything the president refuses to sign.

Trump has not decided whether to declare a national emergency, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Thursday. He argued lawmakers should "do their job" which means "sitting down and negotiating in good faith."

A few Republican senators have said they would support legislation to reopen the eight departments other than Homeland Security to secure pay for the vast majority of federal workers. After Trump attended a Senate GOP caucus meeting Wednesday, the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aimed to show a united front behind Trump's border wall demands.

In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump contended "there is GREAT unity with the Republicans in the House and Senate."

Trump tweet

As any semblance of talks collapsed Wednesday, the shutdown fight increasingly turned into a battle of rhetoric. Schumer said the president threw a "temper tantrum" during the White House talks and slammed his fist on the table.

Vice President Mike Pence disputed the characterization Wednesday, stressing that the president handed out candy to the negotiators. Trump also denied Schumer's description on Thursday, saying he "politely said bye-bye and left, no slamming!"

Trump tweet

"I very calmly walked out of the room," he added as he left for Texas. "I didn't smash the table. I should have, but I didn't smash the table."

As the shutdown drags on, Pelosi and Schumer have increasingly turned the focus to federal workers who will start to miss paychecks during the closure. About 800,000 U.S. employees are either furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown.

Schumer plans to speak Thursday to urge Senate Republicans to hold a vote on the House-passed spending measures.

"If Leader McConnell or Republicans object, thousands of federal workers—and the families who rely on them—will go without a paycheck," he said in a tweet.

Schumer tweet

Pence said Thursday that he spoke to Pelosi and Schumer after Wednesday's meeting ended. He said he told the Democrats to make an offer to the White House, after the Trump administration floated a proposal to them. Democrats have repeatedly urged the White House to support the House-passed bill to temporarily fund DHS.

"The president is going to get this done one way or the other," he said.

Pence: No decision on declaring national emergency
Pence: No decision on declaring national emergency

Asked Thursday about the workers who will suffer from the shutdown, Trump instead questioned whether Democrats care about crime or murders that he tied to illegal immigration. He again claimed many federal workers agree with his stance on the shutdown — even though U.S. employee unions have decried the government closure.

The Trump administration has put a price tag of at least $25 billion on a wall for the full U.S.-Mexico border. Therefore, the fight could rage on even if lawmakers break the impasse over the president's $5 billion demand.

— CNBC's Ylan Mui contributed to this report.

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