McALLEN — Taking the shutdown fight to the Mexican border, President Donald Trump edged closer Thursday to declaring a national emergency in an extraordinary end run around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall. Pressure was mounting to find an escape hatch from the three-week impasse that has closed parts of the government, cutting scattered services and leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without pay.
Trump, visiting McAllen, Texas, and the Rio Grande to highlight what he says is a crisis of drugs and crime, said that “if for any reason we don’t get this going” — an agreement with House Democrats who have refused to approve the $5.7 billion he demands for the wall — “I will declare a national emergency.”
Some 800,000 workers, more than half of them still on the job, were to miss their first paycheck on Friday under the stoppage, and Washington was close to setting a dubious record for the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history. Those markers — along with growing effects to national parks, food inspections and the economy overall — left some Republicans on Capitol Hill increasingly uncomfortable with Trump’s demands.
Asked about the plight of those going without pay, the president shifted the focus, saying he felt badly “for people that have family members that have been killed” by criminals who came over the border.
Trump was consulting with White House attorneys and allies about using presidential emergency powers to take unilateral action to construct the wall over the objections of Congress. He claimed his lawyers told him the action would withstand legal scrutiny “100 percent.”
Such a move to bypass Congress’ constitutional control of the nation’s purse strings would spark certain legal challenges and bipartisan cries of executive overreach.
A congressional official said the White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to look for billions of dollars earmarked last year for disaster response for Puerto Rico and other areas that could be diverted to a border wall as part of the emergency declaration. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
“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,” Trump said before departing the White House for his politically flavored visit to the border. He wore his campaign-slogan “Make America Great Again” cap throughout.
It was not clear what a compromise might entail, and there were no indications that one was in the offing. 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 barrier that Trump envisions.
Vice President Mike Pence shuttled through meetings on Capitol Hill, but there were no signs of any breakthroughs. Pence panned, for now, a last-ditch effort led by GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to strike a bipartisan immigration compromise. It would have linked wall funding to deportation protections for some immigrants, including young people here illegally known as Dreamers. But Pence, in a briefing with reporters, said the president prefers to wait for the courts to decide that issue.
Graham sounded deflated after talks among senators essentially collapsed, and said, “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers” to fund wall construction.
Pence said the president has “made no decision” about declaring a national emergency, but added, “The president’s going to get this done one way or the other.”
Visiting a border patrol station in McAllen, Trump viewed tables piled with weapons and narcotics. Like nearly all drugs trafficked across the border, they were intercepted by agents at official ports of entry, he was told, and not in the remote areas where he wants to extend tall barriers.
Still, he declared: “A wall works. ... Nothing like a wall.”
He argued that the U.S. can’t solve the problem without a “very substantial barrier” along the border, but offered exaggerations about the effectiveness of border walls and current apprehensions of those crossing illegally.
Sitting among border patrol officers, state and local officials and military representatives, Trump insisted he was “winning” the shutdown fight and criticized Democrats for asserting he was manufacturing a sense of crisis in order to declare an emergency. “What is manufactured is the use of the word ‘manufactured,’” Trump said.
As he arrived in Texas, several hundred protesters near the airport in McAllen chanted and waved signs opposing a wall. Across the street, a smaller group chanted back: “Build that wall!”
In Washington, federal workers denounced Trump at a rally with congressional Democrats, demanding he reopen the government so they can get back to work.
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the president of engaging in political games to fire up his most loyal supporters, suggesting that a heated meeting Wednesday with legislators at the White House had been “a setup” so that Trump could walk out of it.
In an ominous sign for those seeking a swift end to the showdown, Trump announced he was canceling his trip to Davos, Switzerland, scheduled for later this month, citing Democrats’ “intransigence” on border security. He was to leave Jan. 21 to attend the World Economic Forum.
The partial shutdown would set a record early Saturday, stretching beyond the 21-day closure that ended on Jan. 6, 1996, during President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Inclement weather has delayed the completion of a steel bridge on the River Trail in Cameron Park, but the bridge is in place and should open in a few weeks, parks officials said Thursday.
The bridge, a 4-ton structure that covers a creek inlet upstream of Mouth of the Bosque, was built in 2016 by Rusty Hansgen of the Waco Bicycle Club, with help from city workers. But parks officials put the brakes on the project in 2017 and hired an engineer to ensure the bridge was installed properly.
Senior park planner Tom Balk said the 32-foot bridge is expected to be open to the public by the end of January, weather permitting.
The timeline has been delayed for several more weeks recently because of rain and flooding in the area. Work was underway in August and expected to wrap up by October, but flooding in October put a halt to work for months.
Balk and John Rose, interim director of Waco parks and recreation, updated the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission on Thursday at the Dewey Community Center.
“It’s looking great,” commission member Andrew Telep said. “I think the look of the bridge fits.”
The project has cost the city about $58,000, Balk said. The original construction contract was worth $48,321, and additional engineering work cost $9,900.
A cottonwood tree collapsed in 2015, destroying a wooden bridge that had stood for years. On an interim basis, pieces of the tree served as a crossing.
The parks board on Thursday also got an update on continuing renovations at Kendrick Park , which includes a new playground that will open in the coming week with inclusive features for children with disabilities. Parks officials are planning a separate project as a destination park that is inclusive for all abilities.
In the next six to eight weeks, new trail routes at Kendrick Park will more than double the length of the park’s popular trails.
“That’s some of our most loyal and steady trail walkers,” Balk said. “Every morning, even when this portion has been fenced off, we’ve still seen people show up to keep the habit alive and walk the perimeter of the park.”
A ribbon cutting for the park and community celebration will be scheduled.
Officials said the interview process for the next parks and recreation director is well underway. The city fired John Williams in August after finding that he bypassed hiring processes for its summer day camps for children. Rose said those policies have been updated to ensure the incident is not repeated.
He estimated a new director could be named within the next two months.
Baylor University biology professor Joseph White has been studying the ash trees in his backyard a little closer since news that officials confirmed an invasive beetle that decimates the trees was present in Tarrant County, less than 100 miles away.
“I’m really resistant to just dousing them with a bunch of chemicals. I know it’s going to go into the seeds,” White said. “I’m not really against chemicals per se, but I just want to wait, I guess. I may just let nature take its course and unfortunately I may lose my ash trees and have to start over again.”
Though the emerald ash borer has not been spotted in McLennan County, its slow spread across the continent means the future looks bleak for the area’s ash trees.
The beetle was first documented in North America in 2002 near Detroit and, as of last year, had killed millions of ash trees in 35 U.S. states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, according to the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network.
The adult beetles nibble on ash foliage, causing little damage. But the larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients, according to the network.
White, whose background is primarily in forestry and ecosystems related to trees, is among the experts nationwide monitoring the emerald ash borer’s spread. All species of ash are susceptible to the beetle, and trees typically die within five years of infestation, he said.
“There’s no eradication of it,” White said. “It’s going to happen, so to speak. It’s just a sad deal that it’s now here.”
The half-inch-long metallic green beetles have no natural predators in North America, though professionals have considered introducing a wasp that preys on the beetles in their native Asia, White said.
Ash trees make up about 5 percent of the Dallas-Fort Worth urban forest, where the presence of the beetle has been confirmed, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.
The trees in general do not handle wounds or damage well, said Brian Williams, a certified arborist and owner of Brian’s Tree Services in Valley Mills, which has served the area about 22 years.
Williams said he attended a conference last year and learned any ash trees not treated within the next 10 years are likely to die. While chemical preventive treatments are available, they are costly, have to be administered by a professional and are not guaranteed to work, he said.
“You could easily surpass the value of the tree in treating it within a couple years,” he said.
Homeowners and businesses rarely ask for ash trees anymore and are discouraged from buying them when they do ask, he said. As the trees die, it is unlikely each one will be replaced with a new tree.
Cameron Park, for instance, could lose 10 to 30 percent of its tree canopy, Williams said. From soil erosion to the butterflies and birds that rely on ecosystems the trees support, the long-term effects remain unclear.
“I’ve looked through the literature on this and I don’t see anyone addressing the loss of this tree on the wild land,” he said.
In developed areas, in addition to effects on wildlife and other vegetation, dying trees can mean decreased property value and risks associated with collapse or falling limbs, he said.
Williams spent his younger years shadowing his father, who is still an arborist. Ash are considered fast-growing shade trees, and there was a boom in planting them locally about 50 years ago, he said.
How and why the beetle is traveling across the nation is a big question, White said. The females can fly 3 to 10 miles with eggs, he said. But it also appears transportation of firewood taken from dead infected trees has aided the spread.
Infected trees would need to be ground up and burned on site to prevent the beetle from spreading, White said.
Signs of infestation include yellow, thin or wilted foliage, unusual woodpecker presence and pecking holes, D-shaped beetle exit holes, and shoots growing from roots or a tree’s trunk, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
To report suspected emerald ash borers, call 1-866-322-4512.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, will testify publicly before a House committee next month in a hearing that could serve as the opening salvo in a promised Democratic effort to greater scrutinize Trump, his conflicts of interest and his ties to Russia.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Thursday that Cohen will testify before that panel Feb. 7, a little more than a month after the Democrats took the House majority.
Cohen is a pivotal figure in investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign and by federal prosecutors in New York into campaign finance violations related to hush-money payments to two women who say they had sex with Trump.
Cohen has pleaded guilty in both investigations and was sentenced last month to three years in prison. An adviser to Cohen, Lanny Davis, said shortly after he was sentenced that the former political fixer wanted to testify and “state publicly all he knows.”
In a statement released on Thursday, Cohen said he had accepted the invitation “in furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers.”
Cohen added: “I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”
Cohen acknowledged in the Mueller investigation that he lied to Congress by saying negotiations over a Trump Tower in Moscow had ended in January 2016 when they actually continued into that June, well into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In New York, he acknowledged his involvement in hush-money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
The chairman of the Oversight panel, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, said in a statement that Cohen is testifying voluntarily.
“I want to make clear that we have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with special counsel Mueller’s office,” Cummings said. “The committee will announce additional information in the coming weeks.”
The Oversight hearing may not be Cohen’s only appearance. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he welcomes Cohen’s testimony before the Oversight panel, but “it will be necessary, however, for Mr. Cohen to answer questions pertaining to the Russia investigation, and we hope to schedule a closed session before our committee in the near future.”
Cohen testified before the House intelligence panel in 2017, before his role in the federal investigations was fully known and when Republicans controlled the panel. The GOP-led committee later ended its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, saying there was no evidence of collusion or conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Schiff wants to restart parts of that probe.