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At the Border and in Washington, the White House Digs In on the Wall

McALLEN, Texas — President Trump traveled to the border Thursday to warn of crime and chaos on the frontier, as White House officials considered diverting emergency aid from storm- and fire-ravaged Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, and California to build a border barrier under an emergency declaration.

In a sign of growing unease about the partial government shutdown, some Senate Republicans came off the sidelines to hash out a deal that would reopen the government as Congress worked toward a broader agreement tying wall funds to protection for some immigrants in the country illegally and other migrants.

But before those negotiations could gain momentum, they collapsed; Vice President Mike Pence and other members of Trump’s team let it be known privately that the president would not back such a deal.

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“It kind of fell apart,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “I have never been more depressed about moving forward than I am right now.’’

In a brief statement not long after, Graham declared, “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier.” He added, “I hope it works.”

The administration appeared to be looking into just that: using extraordinary emergency powers to get around Congress in funding the wall. The White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to examine emergency supplemental funds allocated last year after devastating hurricanes and wildfires that could instead be used to pay for the wall, according to congressional and Defense Department officials.

But the administration can expect a flood of court challenges if it proposes to build a wall without explicit congressional authorization.

‘‘The use of emergency powers to build a wall is unlawful and we are prepared to sue as needed,’’ said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, which has helped obtain dozens of court orders blocking Trump administration immigration policies.

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As the shutdown neared three weeks, Trump, flanked by Border Patrol officers and a cache of drugs, cash, and weapons seized by authorities, used a visit Thursday to a border facility in McAllen, Texas, to blame the protracted shutdown affecting large sections of the federal government on Democrats, charging that their opposition to a wall was allowing for brutal crime and violence.

“You’ll have crime in Iowa, you’ll have crime in New Hampshire, you’ll have crime in New York” without a wall, he warned.

“If we had a barrier of any kind, whether it’s steel or concrete,” Trump said of tragic stories involving violence and human trafficking, “they wouldn’t even bother trying. We could stop that cold.”

In a bewildering set of statements that underscored the freewheeling, often contradictory nature of his attempts to force Democrats to capitulate, Trump renewed his threat to declare a national emergency and build his wall without congressional approval, but then suggested a short time later that he was open to a broader immigration deal that would grant legal status to immigrants in the country illegally.

“We can declare a national emergency,” Trump said. “We shouldn’t have to.”

Later, standing just above the Rio Grande with military vehicles and border agents as his backdrop, he said he would consider a compromise that would allow immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, often known as Dreamers, to maintain legal status they lost when he ended the Obama-era program that protected them.

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“I would like to do a much broader form of immigration,” Trump said. “We could help the Dreamers.”

Only hours earlier, Pence had rejected such a deal as part of the current negotiations, saying the president wanted to wait until the Supreme Court ruled this spring on whether an Obama-era program protecting young immigrants brought illegally as children was constitutional. But the White House only hardened its position. “No wall, no deal,” Pence declared. “We’re going to keep standing strong, keep standing firm.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi also showed no signs of budging, urging the Republican-controlled Senate to take up a measure the House passed Wednesday to reopen part of the government. The House passed two more measures Thursday, this time funding the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration.

A dozen Republicans crossed party lines to support one of the measures, slightly more than previous votes, but there was no indication that the patience of Trump’s own party was wearing thin.

The showdown has forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay and placed federal benefits for millions more in jeopardy, with the fallout being felt across the country in ways large and small. Without debate Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed legislation to ensure that workers who go without salaries receive back pay when the government reopens.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said Trump had assured him he would sign the bill.

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The partial shutdown will almost certainly become the longest in US history Saturday, eclipsing a 21-day lapse that began in December 1995.

At the same time, the only glimmer of a bipartisan compromise being discussed in the Capitol appeared to die. A flurry of negotiations that began late Wednesday among Republicans, including several facing competitive reelection contests in 2020, crumbled amid White House opposition.


Material from the Washington Post was used in this report.