The partial government shutdown entered its 17th day Monday, with the focus on whether President Donald Trump will follow through on his threat to declare a national emergency, which he says would allow the military to build a border wall with Defense Department funding.
"I may decide a national emergency, depending on what happens over the next few days," Trump said in response to questions Sunday on the White House lawn before departing for staff meetings at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland.
"I can do it if I want, absolutely," he said at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden last Friday.
"We can call a national emergency because of the security of our country" to guard against the threat that border officials say is posed by illegal crossings, Trump said.
"We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly," possibly using the Army Corps of Engineers, he added.
When asked whether the president has the authority to declare a national emergency over the border wall, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said on ABC-TV's "This Week" program Sunday, "The short answer is 'Yes.' "
Smith said declaring a national emergency would be "wide open to court challenges," adding that using the military to build the wall would amount to "a terrible use of Department of Defense dollars."
Also, on "This Week," Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said of the possible national emergency declaration that "nobody wants to invoke it," but the border wall issue is "completely captive" to congressional Democrats.
"The Democrats are continuing to play games," she said.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a White House Cabinet meeting last Wednesday that she needs more assistance to cope with what she called a border "crisis."
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents are working without pay during the partial shutdown, which has led to about 800,000 federal workers being furloughed or called to work without pay.
At the Cabinet meeting last Wednesday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the Defense Department is "doing additional planning to strengthen the support that we're providing to Kirstjen and her team."
Shanahan said the approximately 2,300 active-duty troops in California, Texas and Arizona to back up CBP are focusing on the "restoration of fences" and "building out additional mileage for the wall" that Trump has proposed as the solution to halt illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
"The Army Corps of Engineers is dialed in on doing this cost effectively and with the right amount of urgency as to where we can build additional stand-up walls quickly and then get after the threat," Shanahan said.
Active-duty troops began deploying to the border Oct 31. They originally had a withdrawal deadline of Dec. 15, but that date has been extended to Jan. 31; it could potentially be extended again should Trump decide to bypass Congress and use the military and DoD funding to build the wall.
Trump said Sunday a national emergency declaration would depend on how negotiations to break the impasse with House and Senate Democrats over border wall funding play out in the next few days. That stalemate has led to the shutdown of several federal departments and agencies, including Homeland Security and the Justice Department.
Trump is demanding at least $5.6 billion for the wall. Democrats have offered about $1.6 billion for border security measures, but not for construction of additional segments of the wall.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.