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Trump Considering 'National Emergency' Declaration to Build Wall with Military Coffers

President Donald Trump walks out of the Oval Office to a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House after meeting with lawmakers about border security on Jan. 4, 2019, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence follows. (AP Photo/ Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON — President Trump said it’s necessary to use eminent domain to seize border properties like any other infrastructure project, and warned at a Rose Garden press conference today that he has thought about using “emergency powers” to grant himself authority to build a wall without the approval of Congress.

“We could call a national emergency because of the security of our country. Absolutely. No, we could do it. I haven’t done it. I may do it. I may do it. But we could call a national emergency and build it very quickly and it’s another way of doing it,” he said. “But if we can do it through a negotiated process, we’re giving that a shot.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) countered such a declaration would be a misuse of military construction readiness funds. “This is as clear a statement as any that President Trump values the construction of his wall over military readiness and support for our troops and their families,” Smith said.

Trump had just emerged from the second White House meeting this week with congressional leaders to negotiate an end to the government shutdown.

Outside of the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called it “a lengthy and sometimes contentious conversation with the president” that yielded no agreement.

“How do you define progress in a meeting? When you have a better understanding of each other’s position? When you eliminate some possibilities?” Pelosi asked. “If that’s a judgment, then yes, we made some progress.”

Afterward, Trump met the media accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. He acknowledged that he told Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that the shutdown could drag on for months or even longer than a year.

“Absolutely, I said that. I don’t think it will, but I am prepared and I think I could speak for Republicans in the House and Republicans in the Senate,” he said.

Trump was asked about lawsuits over the seizure of border property, which some landowners predict could be tied up court for years.

“Eminent domain is very interesting. But without eminent domain, you wouldn’t have any highways, you wouldn’t have any schools, you wouldn’t have any roadways. What we’re doing with eminent domain is, in many cases, we’ll make a deal up front and we’ve already done that. The secretary has done a lot of that. And if we can’t make a deal, we take the land and we pay them three court process, which goes actually very fairly quickly, and we’re generous but we take the land. Otherwise, you can never build anything,” he replied.

“If you didn’t use eminent domain, you wouldn’t have one highway in this country. You have to use eminent domain. It’s actually something you don’t want to use it, but if you’re going to use a stretch, as an example, a pipelines and other things that go, you have to use eminent domain, otherwise you’d never be able to buy the land. If we had one person that wouldn’t sell us out of hundreds, just one, it only takes one, then we wouldn’t be able to build proper border security because we’d have that big opening that I was talking to you about,” the president continued. “So what happens is some are paid upfront, you make a deal upfront and we’re willing to do that in all cases. And when they are unwilling to make a deal, which also happens, you go to court. But in the meantime, we are able to build the border security. So I think it’s a fair process. I think it’s a process that’s very necessary, but I think it’s fair.”

Trump said the process wouldn’t hold up moving forward on wall construction because it would be “under the military version of eminent domain.”

Trump said he’s backing away from his campaign descriptions of a tall, thick concrete wall, a vision that was mirrored in prototypes he viewed at the California border last year. The Senate version of the appropriations bill that Trump won’t sign blocks the $1.3 billion in border spending from funding a concrete wall.

“We now have a great steel business that’s rebuilt and the United States. Steel is stronger than concrete,” he said. “If I build this wall or fence or anything the Democrats need to call it because I’m not into names, I’m into production, I’m into something that works, if I build a steel wall rather than a concrete wall, it will actually be stronger than a concrete — steel is stronger than concrete. OK? … I think people will like that.”