WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump told Congressional leaders on Friday that he is ready to shut down the federal government for “months or even years” if Democrats do not allot money to build a border wall with Mexico, while warning that he may even invoke emergency provisions that will allow him to draft the US military and its budget for the task.
Trump’s threat was conveyed to reporters by Democratic lawmakers who met him to discuss the shutdown in a meeting that they described as contentious but which the President said was “very very productive.” They accused the President of holding federal workers “hostage” to his demand for a wall that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called “immoral.”
Some 800,000 federal workers have been in limbo for two weeks now as the federal government shutdown has dragged on over funding for the wall. On Friday, there were reports that airport security was being affected by hundreds of Transport Security Administration (TSA) workers calling in sick due to the payless shutdown, but the Department of Homeland Security characterized the story as “fake news” while acknowledging some workers took time off due to the holiday season. It said that airport security has not been impacted by the shutdown.
But the TSA workers union warned that workers wont have the money to come to work without a paycheck. Prospects of an indefinite shutdown arising from the political gridlock has also spooked taxpayers at the start of the tax year since the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is one of the affected departments.
On his part, Trump confirmed that he is willing to go the whole hog if he does not get at least $ 5.6 billion in funding for the wall. “Absolutely, I said that. I don’t think it will, but I am prepared,” Trump told to reporters of his threat to let the shutdown continue indefinitely if he does not get money. He also said he could “call a national emergency because of the security of our country… and build it (the wall) very quickly.”
While the national emergency Trump referred to does not involve suspension of civil liberties (like it happened in India), experts said it could allow Trump to use a provision called Title 10 US code to bring the military into the border wall project and let them build it with defense funds.
The code reads: “In the event of a declaration of war or the declaration by the President of a national emergency in accordance with the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) that requires use of the armed forces, the Secretary of Defense…may undertake military construction projects, and may authorize the Secretaries of the military departments to undertake military construction projects, not otherwise authorized by law that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces.”
But Democrats have said they will challenge any such action in court, arguing that the president’s authority in this area is intended for wars and genuine national emergencies.
The protracted wrangle between the President and Democrats is becoming edgy even as the more younger and more radical wing of the opposition is seeking to impeach Trump, a route resisted by the party leadership.
Amid an uproar on social media, Rashida Tlaib, the freshman lawmaker of Palestinian origin who publicly called to #impeachthemotherfucker, defended her language saying she always spoke truth to power. “We say colorful things in interesting ways,” she maintained, warning that President Trump has met his match in her.
The party leadership also defended her, with Speaker Pelosi declaring that while she would not use such language, “I don’t think it’s anything worse than what the president has said.”
Trump’s own use of coarse and colorful language is well-recorded but the U.S President took on a injured tone on Friday, saying Tlaib’s comments were disgraceful.
“Using language like that in front of her son and whoever else was there, I thought that was a great dishonor to her and to her family. I thought it was highly disrespectful to the United States of America,” Trump said.
The hashtag #impeachthemotherfuc*er trended on social media on Friday.