MCALLEN, TEXAS: United States President Donald Trump on Friday called Pakistanis ‘people from Middle East’ in his argument to build a wall along his country’s Mexican border and step up the ante in a drawn-out battle with Congress over release of funds amid a government shutdown.
Trump flew to the Texas border with Mexico on Thursday to try to bolster his case for the border wall as the government shutdown tied to the issue stretched into its 20th day with no sign of new talks to resolve the impasse. The shutdown will be the longest in US history if it is still going on by Saturday.
Flanked by border agents who are going without paychecks Trump threatened to use emergency powers to bypass Congress to pay for the wall on the US-Mexico border. “We can declare a national emergency. We shouldn’t have to,” Trump told reporters. “This is just common sense.”
According to Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star, when a border patrol official told the US president that they had apprehended people from multiple countries including Pakistan, Trump asked, “How many Pakistanis?” The man said “two.”
Then, after he finished talking, Trump said: “So they apprehended people from the Middle East.”
Raul Ortiz, a local border patrol official, told Trump and reporters that 133 people from countries other than Mexico and those in central America — including India, Pakistan, China and Romania — had been apprehended in the stretch of territory around McAllen.
Standing along the Rio Grande dividing the US and Mexico, Trump said “a lot of the crime in our country is caused by what’s coming through here”, adding: “They came in last week or this week, from Pakistan and different people. They got them.”
The government shutdown has left a quarter of the federal government closed down and hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay. A day after he stormed out of a meeting with Democratic leaders, Trump attacked them for refusing his demand, calling them harder to deal with than China.
“I find China, frankly, in many ways to be far more honourable than Crying Chuck and Nancy. I really do,” Trump said, referring to House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
The Republican president is adamant that his government funding bill to end the shutdown include $5.7 billion for a border barrier — his signature campaign promise. So far, the House has passed two bills to fund the departments of transportation, housing and agriculture but the White House said Trump would veto the bills if they made it to his desk.
Trump said his lawyers had told him he had the power to invoke national emergency powers to get his wall funded. “I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,” Trump told reporters at the White House later. “I’m not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to, I will.”
The declaration would circumvent Congress’ power over the national purse strings. A subsequent court fight could be protracted. The Washington Post reported that the White House was laying the groundwork for declaring emergency that would let Trump build sections of a wall, possibly using funds from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who has cultivated good relations with Trump, told reporters a national emergency declaration by Trump would be “wrong, but I think that’s his only way out” of the impasse. If Trump were to make such a declaration, Manchin predicted the Senate would immediately pass legislation to fund the federal agencies that have been partially closed.
Pressure on both sides could intensify on Saturday when about 800,000 federal employees would have missed their first paychecks. About half of them are deemed “essential” to national security, like prison guards and airport security screeners — and have to continue working. Others are home on furlough.