White House Considers Using Storm Aid Funds as a Way to Pay for the Border Wall

Erin Schaff for The New York Times

McALLEN, Tex. — President Trump traveled to the border on 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, perhaps 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 undocumented immigrants and other migrants.

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

“It kind of fell apart,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who was among those Republicans seeking a deal.

“It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier,” he said later in a brief statement. He added, “I hope it works.”

The administration appeared to be looking into just such a solution: using extraordinary emergency powers to get around Congress in funding the wall. Among the options, the White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether it can divert for wall construction $13.9 billion allocated last year after devastating hurricanes and wildfires, according to congressional and Defense Department officials with knowledge of the matter, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the possibility.

Administration officials are debating whether they could make such a move without the president declaring a national emergency, an action the White House counsel’s office has explored.

But Mr. Trump’s advisers, including his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, have urged him to try to find other approaches than declaring a national emergency. Mr. Kushner’s role was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The advisers have warned him of a range of possible negative outcomes, particularly the risk of losing in court, people familiar with the discussions said.

Aides have suggested that Mr. Trump would be giving a dysfunctional Congress a pass from fulfilling its duties if he makes an aggressive move. And some of his more conservative advisers have suggested a national emergency declaration is a form of government overreach that is antithetical to conservative principles.

As the shutdown neared Day 21 — the second longest in history — Mr. Trump used a visit to a border facility in McAllen, Tex., to blame the protracted shutdown on Democrats, charging that their opposition to a wall was responsible 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.

“We could stop that cold,” he added.

Mr. Trump also repeated his demand for the money from Congress while saying that Mexico would somehow provide funds indirectly for the wall, a contradiction of what he said in December when he wrote in a Twitter post, “I often stated, ‘One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.’ ”

“I didn’t say they’re going to write me a check for $10 billion or $20 billion,” Mr. Trump said on Thursday. “If Congress approves this trade bill, they’ll pay for the wall many times…

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