US president Donald Trump is edging closer to declaring a national emergency to fund his long-promised southern border wall.
Pressure is mounting to resolve a three-week impasse over the issue which has closed parts of the US government, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without pay.
Some 800,000 staff are set to miss their first pay cheque under the stoppage on Friday, and Washington is coming close to setting a dubious record for the longest government shutdown in American history.
Those markers – along with growing effects on national parks, food inspections and the economy overall – have left some Republicans on Capitol Hill increasingly uncomfortable with Mr Trump’s demands.
Asked about the plight of those going without pay, the president shifted focus, saying he felt badly “for people that have family members that have been killed” by criminals who came over the border.
Mr Trump spoke during a visit to McAllen, Texas, and the Rio Grande on Thursday to highlight what he calls a crisis of drugs and crime.
He said that “if for any reason we don’t get this going” – meaning an agreement with House Democrats who have refused to approve the 5.7 billion dollars (£4.4 billion) he is demanding for the wall – “I will declare a national emergency”.
Mr Trump is consulting with White House lawyers and allies about using presidential emergency powers to take unilateral action to construct the wall over the objections of US congress.
He claimed his lawyers told him the action would withstand legal scrutiny “100%”.
Such a move to bypass US congress’ constitutional control of the nation’s purse strings would spark certain legal challenges and bipartisan claims of executive over-reach.
A congressional official said the White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to look for billions of dollars earmarked last year for disaster response for Puerto Rico and other areas that could be diverted to a border wall as part of the emergency declaration.
“We’re either going to have a win, make a compromise – because I think a compromise is a win for everybody – or I will declare a national emergency,” Mr Trump said before departing the White House for his visit to the border.
He wore his campaign-slogan “Make America Great Again” cap throughout.
However, there does not appear to be any compromise on the table. Mr Trump has said he will not reopen the government without money for the wall. Democrats say they favour measures to bolster border security but oppose the long, impregnable barrier that Mr Trump envisions.
Visiting a border patrol station in McAllen, Mr Trump viewed tables piled with weapons and narcotics. Like nearly all drugs trafficked across the border, they were intercepted by agents at official ports of entry, he was told, and not in the remote areas where he wants to extend barriers.
Still, he declared: “A wall works. Nothing like a wall.”
In an ominous sign for those seeking a swift end to the showdown, Mr Trump announced he was cancelling his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, scheduled for later this month, citing Democrats’ “intransigence” on border security.
The partial shutdown would set a record early on Saturday, stretching beyond the 21-day closure that ended on January 6 1996, during Bill Clinton’s administration.
- Press Association