Trump Raises Possibility of Declaring National Emergency at Border

United States troops walked along the border fence near a port of entry in San Diego in November.

WASHINGTON — President Trump raised the possibility on Friday of declaring a national emergency to allow him to build a wall along the southwest border without congressional approval, hours after Department of Homeland Security officials requested additional support to erect temporary barriers between the United States and Mexico.

Mr. Trump’s comments followed a contentious meeting with Democratic leaders at the White House. It failed to produce a deal to end the two-week partial shutdown of the federal government, a funding lapse that began with the president’s insistence that Congress allocate $5.6 billion for the wall.

“We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden when asked about an emergency declaration.

Asked if his claim was intended to scare Democrats into making a deal, he replied, “I never make threats.”

[President Trump took the public stage this week clearly intent on framing the conflict on his own terms.]

Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, presidents are allowed to take unilateral action in times of crisis, provided they notify Congress, specify the circumstances that necessitated the declaration and document all uses of executive authority that are covered by the emergency.

Officials at the Homeland Security, Justice and Defense Departments have researched the issue for Mr. Trump. However, no emergency order has been drafted or approved, one official with knowledge of those plans said.

The Homeland Security Department submitted an official request for assistance from the Pentagon on Friday, a Defense Department official said. But the military has yet to determine what resources are needed and if any additional troops are required for the mission, the official said.

The moves come as the president finds himself trapped between a central campaign promise to build a wall and rising anxiety among Republicans over political damage inflicted by a shutdown that Mr. Trump has defiantly owned.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ruled out paying for a border wall, even at a much lower funding level, despite suggestions by Mr. Trump that the government shutdown could last “months or even years.”

Administration officials have been scrambling to tackle the legal and logistical problems involved with steering previously allocated funding toward any project that can be described as a wall, a fence or a barrier.

The definition of a wall has grown ever more elastic.

The White House and homeland security officials have been pushing the Pentagon to continue to use military troops at the border — mainly to install, extend and repair a section of concertina wire used to stop immigrants from entering unmanned sections of the southwest border.

Mr. Trump tweeted last month that “the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall” — a reference to several hundred miles of fencing along the border.

The temporary troop deployments are just one of many recommendations that the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, and her staff have made to the Pentagon.

One possible solution, in the absence of new congressional allocations, is figuring out a way to steer contracts already planned for Army Corps of Engineers projects toward some kind of barriers. But lawyers at the Homeland Security and Justice Departments have yet to determine if doing so could withstand court challenges, two senior administration officials said.

Mr. Trump spent the holidays at the White House to demonstrate his determination to secure new border funding. Yet he has struggled to dramatize his cause, as stories of federal employees and other Americans suffering from the effects of the shutdown pile up.

On Thursday, homeland security officials abruptly canceled a scheduled press briefing by Kevin K. McAleenan, the commissioner of United States Customs and Border Protection, when Mr. Trump decided that he wanted to appear in front of the cameras himself. He did so, in the White House briefing room, with Border Patrol and other immigration enforcement employees who had been meeting with him in the Oval Office.

“It was completely off the cuff,” Art Del Cueto, a Border Patrol agent in the room with Mr. Trump, said shortly after leaving the White House. “I don’t know who in the room — it may have been him — that was like, ‘We should go out there and do a presser.’ So we did.”

Mr. Del Cueto and other members of the Border Patrol’s labor union have met with Mr. Trump several times in his presidency — so frequently, they said, that they could not remember the number of times they had been to the Oval Office.

Separately, on Friday, Mr. Trump in a tweet denied as “FAKE NEWS” a New York Times article reporting that he was considering nominating former Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, as his next defense secretary. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned last month to protest Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

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