Trump looking at new ways to build wall without Congress, Mulvaney says

  • Comments Wednesday by Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, seen here on Jan. 2, suggest President Trump is readying a plan to fund a wall that would not require approval from Congress.

    Comments Wednesday by Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, seen here on Jan. 2, suggest President Trump is readying a plan to fund a wall that would not require approval from Congress. Washington Post/Jan. 2, 2019

 
 
Updated 2/7/2019 11:05 AM

WASHINGTON -- The White House is looking at multiple ways to redirect taxpayer money for the construction of a wall along the Mexico border, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, and it is prioritizing strategies that won't be blocked in court.

Mulvaney's comments suggest President Donald Trump is readying a plan to fund a wall that would not require approval from Congress - a contingency in case Democrats again reject his demand for billions in federal funding for a border barrier.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"There's a couple of different ways we can do it," Mulvaney said Wednesday evening on Fox News. "We're looking at all of them."

Mulvaney said the steps would come through some type of executive action. He didn't specify whether that would require declaring a national emergency, which Trump has threatened to do for weeks, or if there was another mechanism that might prove less controversial.

He said the White House's preference was for Congress to approve the money on its own, but he said the Trump administration was finalizing plans for how it would act if lawmakers refuse.

A conference committee of congressional Democrats and Republicans is trying to cut a border-security deal by Feb. 15 that would fund government operations and prevent another partial shutdown. Trump has suggested he would not support a deal that does not include $5.7 billion to pay for a wall, but many Democrats have said they would not agree to finance construction of a new wall.

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Even with those differences, negotiators have signaled in recent days that they are making progress and believe they can reach a deal in time, though it is unclear whether Trump will eventually endorse it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday said she was confident Congress could reach a deal to avert another funding lapse.

"Hopefully we'll get some good news in a short period of time and certainly in time" to meet the feb 15 deadline," she said. "I don't think that is a question."

Mulvaney said the preference was for Congress to appropriate the funds the White House has requested to build roughly 230 miles of wall along the Mexico border.

"We would love to work with Congress to do that," he said. "That's the right way to do it. It's the easiest to do it. It's the fastest way to do it. But if Congress won't participate or won't go along, we'll figure out a way to do it with executive authority."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Trump, for weeks, has threatened to declare a national emergency along the southern border and use special presidential powers to then move money that was meant for certain programs and use it instead to build a wall.

A number of Republicans have raised concerns about Trump taking this step, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has warned the White House there could be a backlash. Trump has not said he plans to abandon that approach, but Mulvaney on Wednesday mentioned there were multiple options being studied, with a preference toward initiatives that are harder to block in court.

"Find the money that we can spend with the lowest threat of litigation and then move from that pot of money to the next pot that maybe brings a little bit more threat of litigation and then go through the budget like that," he said.

He said the White House had already identified "substantially more than $5.7 billion" that could be redirected for these purposes.

It is legally difficult for the White House to move money that was appropriated for one purpose and spend it on something else, which is one primary reason Trump has pushed Congress to authorize construction of the wall. Mulvaney and other White House officials have said for weeks they believe they have ways to do it, but they haven't specified how it might work, particularly if they do not declare a national emergency.

As a candidate and earlier in his presidency, Trump promised more than 200 times that the wall would be paid for by Mexico.

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The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

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