WASHINGTON — Congress returns to Washington for its first full week of legislative business since control of the House reverted to Democrats, but lawmakers will be confronted with the same lingering question: When will the partial government shutdown end?
One Republican senator says he's offered President Donald Trump a possible solution, though it may just be wishful thinking.
Sen. Lindsey Graham is encouraging Trump to reopen government for several weeks to continue negotiating with Democrats over the border wall Trump wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border. If there's no deal at the end of that time, Graham says Trump would be free to take the more dramatic step of declaring a national emergency to build it.
But the South Carolina Republican says Trump still wants a deal on funding for the wall before agreeing to reopen shuttered government departments. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, insists Trump reopen the government first.
Their weeks-old standoff led to the partial government shutdown, now on day 24 without a clear end in sight.
“Before he pulls the plug on the legislative option, and I think we're almost there, I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal,” Graham said. "If we can't at the end of three weeks, all bets are off.
“See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers. That's my recommendation,” added Graham, who has publicly pushed Trump to use his authority to declare a national emergency to build the wall. Such a step would allow Trump to bypass Congress and tap various pots of unspent federal money, including for military construction and disaster relief as well as from assets seized by law enforcement, to pay for the wall.
Trump has kept Washington on edge over whether he would resort to such a declaration, citing what he says is a “crisis” of drug smuggling and the trafficking of women and children at the border. The president initially sounded as though such a move was imminent, but then pulled back. He has said several times since he first mentioned the idea in public this month that he prefers a legislative solution.
A key question is how much more time is Trump willing to give lawmakers. Graham, who spoke with Trump by telephone on Sunday morning, said the legislative path “is just about shut off” and blamed intransigence by Pelosi.
The speaker's office had no immediate comment.
Democrats oppose an emergency declaration but may be powerless to block it. Some Republicans are wary, too, fearing how a future Democratic president might use that authority. Such a move, should Trump ultimately go that route, would almost certainly be challenged in the courts.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., called Graham's idea to reopen the government a “great place to start.”
“I do think if we reopen the government, if the president ends this shutdown crisis, we have folks who can negotiate a responsible, modern investment in technology that will actually make us safer,” Coons said.
Trump says technology is nice, but that the border can't be secured without a wall.
The White House has been laying the groundwork for an emergency declaration, which is feared by lawmakers in both parties.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he'd “hate to see” a declaration issued because the wall wouldn't get built, presumably because of legal challenges. Democrats voted in the past for border security and should again, he said.
“I actually want to see this wall get built,” Johnson said. “I want to keep pressure on Democrats to actually come to the negotiating table in good faith and fund what they have supported in the past.”
Graham favors a declaration and said the time for talk is running out.
“It's the last option, not the first option, but we're pretty close to that being the only option,” he said.
Graham and Coons spoke on “Fox News Sunday” and Johnson appeared on CNN's “State of the Union.”
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