President Donald Trump is inclined to declare a national emergency to secure military funding for his long-promised southern border wall if talks between administration officials and top lawmakers from both parties continue to stall, a White House official told CNN on Saturday.
While not the administration's preferred plan, the use of emergency powers to fund the wall "provides a way out" amid a series of contentious meetings and disagreements among Department of Homeland Security officials and Democratic lawmakers over basic facts related to border security, the official said.
"We can only stay like this for so long," said the official, who attended both meetings with congressional officials at the White House led by Trump this week, explaining that factual disputes have hung up discussions.
As the partial government shutdown enters a third week over the funding dispute, Trump has publicly said he would reject any plan that includes less than $5.6 billion for a border wall. The President acknowledged the possibility of using emergency powers to fund the wall during remarks in the Rose Garden on Friday, saying "we can call a national emergency because of the security of our country."
"I haven't done it. I may do it," Trump said. "We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly."
On several occasions, discussions became combative during presentations by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. According to the White House official, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi twice cut into Nielsen's presentations to dismiss DHS statistics on border security as inaccurate.
"I don't believe your facts," Pelosi told Nielsen during a meeting Friday, according to a source, who said a similar incident took place during a Wednesday meeting in the White House Situation Room. The Wall Street Journal first reported Pelosi's remarks.
"In presentations made, they have repeatedly used statistics not supported by fact. They're trying to cast every single migrant as a terrorist or someone with a violent criminal history. The secretary has proven herself to not be credible on these issues," a Pelosi aide told CNN.
DHS Press Secretary Tyler Houlton said in response to CNN's request for comment, "We put the facts and statistics out there publicly and transparently to inform the conversation about the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. It is a shame that some congressional staff want to ignore the facts and ignore this crisis. As always, we stand by to explain these difficult problems to those seeking to better understand the issues and find solutions."
"How do we even go from there," a White House official said, referring to the disagreements, as aides to congressional leaders and top administration officials plan to meet again Sunday.
If a national emergency is declared to build the wall, the administration likely will face lawsuits questioning the legality of the move.
"The President's authority in this area is intended for wars and genuine national emergencies," Evan Hollander, communications director of the House Appropriations Committee, told CNN. "Asserting this authority to build a wasteful wall is legally dubious and would likely invite a court challenge."
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