Donald Trump's effort to get Congress to pony up billions of taxpayer dollars for a border wall is failing spectacularly. Last week, however, the president, for the first time publicly, raised the prospect of going around Congress and declaring "a national emergency."
Under this plan, Trump would grant himself emergency powers, borrow the "power of the purse" from legislators, redirect funds away from the Pentagon, and build a border wall in defiance of Congress' wishes.
How likely is the president to pull the trigger on this? As of this morning, Trump made it sound as if he'd effectively made up his mind.
"I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency. The lawyers have so advised me. I'm not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to I will. I have no doubt about it. I will. I have the absolute right to declare. [...]
"I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency. I haven't done it yet. I may do it. If this doesn't work out, probably I will do that. I would almost say definitely.... This is a national emergency."
Asked why he hasn't already made such a declaration, the Republican added, "I would like to do the deal through Congress and because it makes sense to do it through Congress but the easy route for me would have been to call a national emergency and do it."
When a reporter followed up, asking about the degree to which he's serious about this, Trump replied, "If we don't make a deal, I mean, I would say 100 percent but I don't want to say 100 percent because maybe something else comes up. But if we don't make a deal, I would say it would be very surprising to me that I would not declare a national emergency."
Of course, the president's argument seems to be that pursuing this route is more of a fallback plan in response to legislative failure than a genuine belief that there's an actual emergency that necessitates extraordinary action. Don't be surprised if his quotes are used against him in the event of a court case. (It wouldn't be the first time.)
It's important to emphasize that Trump is an unreliable narrator when it comes to his own presidency, and just because he says he's going to make a declaration is no way evidence that he intends to follow through. That said, facing the prospect of a historic legal dispute, it's worth considering the scope of the seriousness of what may soon unfold.