MCALLEN, Texas – President Donald Trump arrived in McAllen Thursday for his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas for the first time amid an extended government shutdown with no deal in sight.
Trump traveled to McAllen on Air Force One with Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.
Trump threatened on Thursday to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress if he can't reach a deal with Democrats to fund his promised border wall.
He arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border to draw further attention to his case after negotiations with lawmakers blew up.
The partial government shutdown dragged into a 20th day with hundreds of thousands of federal workers off the job or working without pay as the wall fight persisted.
Asked about a national emergency declaration, Trump said as he left the White House for Texas, "I'm not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to I will." He contends such a declaration would allow him to direct the military to begin wall construction.
"So we're either going to have a win, make a compromise --because I think a compromise is a win for everybody-- or I will declare a national emergency," he said.
In perhaps an ominous sign for those seeking a swift end to the showdown, Trump announced he is canceling his trip to Davos, Switzerland later this month, citing Democrats' "intransigence" on border security. He was scheduled to leave Jan. 21 to attend the World Economic Forum.
It's not clear what a compromise might entail. Trump says he won't reopen the government without money for the wall. Democrats say they favor measures to bolster border security but oppose the long, impregnable walling that Trump envisions. He is asking $5.7 billion for wall construction.
Trump's comments came a day after he walked out of a negotiating meeting with congressional leaders -- "I said bye-bye," he tweeted soon after -- as efforts to reopen the government fell into deeper disarray. Affected federal workers face lost paychecks on Friday, and more people are touched every day by the rollback of government services.
In McAllen Thursday, Trump visited a border patrol station for a roundtable discussion on immigration and border security and will get a briefing. But he has expressed his own doubts that his appearance and remarks will change any minds as he seeks money for the wall that's been his signature promise since his presidential campaign.
McAllen is located in the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest part of the border for illegal border crossings.
Several hundred protesters were chanting and waving signs opposing a border wall next to the South Texas airport where Trump was set to arrive. Across the street, a smaller group of protesters shouted back, chanting, "Build that wall!"
"Here's the bottom line -- we need to build the wall, the barrier, the fence, whatever you want to describe it. Today we have 54 1/2 miles of fencing on this area. We have 22 miles in the pipeline, ready to be built that's been funded, and we need another 128 miles to secure this part of the border. And since this is where half of the people are coming through -- most of people are coming through -- this is a key area to cut the crossings, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.
"I appreciated President Trump's invitation to participate in the roundtable, and I expressed my gratitude that the rule of law is finally returning to the southwest border under his leadership," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. "Texans know better than anybody that no one has done more to secure our borders than President Trump. Failing to secure our borders causes devastating loss to Texans and to those who come to our state illegally."
And in Washington, federal workers denounced Trump at a rally with congressional Democrats, demanding he reopen the government so they can get back to work and receive their paychecks.
Putting the standoff in personal terms, the president tweeted before leaving for Texas: "The Opposition Party & the Dems know we must have Strong Border Security, but don't want to give `Trump' another one of many wins!"
The Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector is the busiest by far. Agents in the sector capture thousands of immigrants crossing the border illegally every week.
The promise of a barrier along the southern border has always been a signature issue for Trump, first as a candidate, then as president. He said he will not agree to reopen the government without the promise of $5.7 billion for a physical barrier, among other things.
Democratic leaders said they will not provide that funding.
In McAllen, the president will be briefed in person about the situation on the ground, which he recently called a "growing humanitarian and security crisis."
On Wednesday, Trump threatened again to declare a national emergency to fund the barrier or wall without Congress by redirecting other government funds if a deal to reopen the government is not reached soon.
Political scientists and legal experts agree that, while not unprecedented, that move would draw immediate legal challenges.
KPRC2 spoke with many Trump supporters.
"It's a sacrifice that we have to make," Rafael Madrigal said. "It's not nice. It's a bitter pill that we have to swallow, to do the right thing. Because the last thing we want in the United States is chaos."
"It's very dangerous. And if we can do something like that, it will discourage all the people who are trying to come here illegally," Julie Wilkins said.
"We live here. I’m from here. That’s a lot of money, that’s a lot of taxpayer money," Ryan Dougherty said. "Putting up a wall? I really don't think that's going to work, in my honest opinion."
Trump first visited the U.S.-Mexico border as commander-in-chief in 2018 in California to look at border wall prototypes. First lady Melania Trump visited immigrant children at a shelter along the southern border near McAllen, also in 2018.