Washington (CNN)Donald Trump is threatening to burst out of his dead end on the government shutdown by wielding sweeping presidential power to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and build his border wall.
Trump’s gambit comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gears up to pile political pressure on the GOP this week with a set of bills designed to open shuttered agencies and show that Democrats can provide credible government.
But since the Republican-led Senate will only act on a deal that Trump will sign, the parties remain as estranged as ever as the shutdown heads into a third week with hundreds of thousands of government workers unpaid.
“We’re looking at a national emergency because we have a national emergency — just read the papers,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Sunday.
Trump’s threat is a characteristic move from a President who often tries to escape a crisis by igniting an even bigger controversy, hoping to throw his enemies off balance and disguise his own vulnerable position.
But such a declaration could ignite a legal and political firestorm if he goes ahead, escalating the bitter showdown over the wall and his hardline immigration policies into a constitutional duel over executive power.
Talks at the weekend involving congressional staffers and led by Vice President Mike Pence failed to make meaningful progress toward ending the standoff. Trump is demanding more than $5 billion in wall funding before agreeing to reopen the government. Democrats have offered about $1.5 billion for border security, but no taxpayer dollars for a wall, which the President promised Mexico would pay for.
Both sides appear to be digging deeper into a showdown that is exacerbated because it is the first test of wills in the new era of divided government after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives last week.
“This shutdown could end tomorrow, and it could also go on for a long time. … It’s really dependent on the Democrats,” Trump said on Sunday.
But the Democrats are refusing to talk about Trump’s wall while the government remains partially closed.
“There’s no requirement that this government be shut down while we deliberate the future of any barrier, whether it’s a fence or a wall,” said Democratic Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin on “Face the Nation” on CBS.
“This is the first President in history who shut down his own government,” he said.
The extent of disagreement was reflected in differing accounts of the fruitless attempts to negotiate a deal coming from each side.
A source in Sunday’s meeting involving Pence, White House staffers and congressional aides told CNN’s Manu Raju there was no real discussion about a dollar amount that could help unpick the deadlock.
And a Democratic source familiar with the talks said the administration could not provide a full accounting of how Trump would spend his billions of dollars as requested.
A House GOP leadership aide said, “Democrats were given what they asked for, which was a detailed, breakdown list of the administration’s proposals for border security that include the wall and other border protection measures.”