CHERRY POINT — With less than a week left until the deadline for a border security compromise, President Donald Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency to force funds for a border wall have some officials worried that military construction projects are at risk, including one at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
However, Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow Government Affairs Director Jamie Norment thinks a scenario in which Cherry Point loses all or even some of its funding for a planned $120 million aircraft maintenance hangar project is “very unlikely.”
“It’s a very complicated issue and no one knows exactly what will happen, and at this point it’s all speculation,” Mr. Norment said Thursday.
President Trump has requested $5.7 billion for a proposed wall along the country’s southern border with Mexico to help curb illegal immigration. The issue forced a partial federal government shutdown in December that lasted 35 days.
Congress was able to reach a compromise to temporarily reopen the government until Friday, but they must reach a compromise on the matter by then or the nation could face another government shutdown.
President Trump has hinted several times in recent weeks he may invoke his executive powers to declare a national emergency and force funds from other sources to pay for the border wall. According to reports, that includes about $20 billion from military construction projects approved by Congress but not yet underway.
Mr. Norment, who is an attorney based out of New Bern, said “things would have to go very badly over the next few weeks” for Cherry Point to be affected by the troubles in Washington, D.C.
“You just have to look at the law to know that’s just not how the system works,” he said.
Mr. Norment confirmed President Trump can exercise his executive powers to declare a national emergency, but even if it comes to that point, he said other barriers, such as a Congressional veto or subsequent lawsuits, make it unlikely the funding will ultimately be diverted.
Still, lawmakers have chimed in to urge the president find another solution before dipping into military construction funds.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said in a statement on the matter this week he hoped to avoid a national emergency declaration and voiced concern about granting too much power to the executive branch.
“I’m here to stand up for this institution, keep the powers separate,” he said of the Senate.
Mr. Norment said a recent Washington Post article caused a bit of a local stir when it mentioned the aircraft maintenance project at Cherry Point as among those potentially at risk of losing funding. He said while the article caught people’s attention, he doesn’t believe the president is targeting Cherry Point and there is no need to panic about funding quite yet.
Regardless, Mr. Norment said he and the rest of the ACT are watching the situation closely to see how it develops.
“At the end of the day, the impact to Cherry Point seems at least minimal,” he said.
Fortunately, based on an Associated Press report Friday, it seems increasingly likely a compromise is in the works in Congress.
AP reports congressional bargainers traded offers and worked toward a border security compromise Friday that would avert a fresh federal shutdown and resolve the clash with President Trump.
Both sides’ negotiators expressed optimism that an accord could be reached soon on a spending package for physical barriers along the Southwest border and other security measures. Participants said the agreement would all but certainly be well below the $5.7 billion President Trump has demanded to build his proposed wall, and much closer to the $1.6 billion that was in a bipartisan Senate bill last year.
“That’s what we’re working toward,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., one of the bargainers.
Besides the dollar figure, talks were focusing on the type and location of barriers, participants said. Also in play were the number of beds the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency could have for detained migrants, and how much aid for natural disaster relief would be included.
Money for high-tech surveillance equipment and more personnel was also expected to be included.
No one ruled out that last-minute problems could emerge, especially with President Trump’s penchant for head-snapping turnabouts. But the momentum was clearly toward clinching an agreement that Congress could pass by Friday.
The next day, many government agencies would have to close again for lack of money if no deal is reached.
Negotiator Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said the latest Democratic offer was “much more reasonable.” And Democratic bargainer Rep. Pete Aguilar of California said,
“Each time an offer and a counter is going back and forth the number of open items is reducing. That is progress.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who leads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said he spoke Thursday night to President Trump, who he said was in “wait and see” mode. Rep. Meadows said he expects an agreement to provide something closer to $1.6 billion.
“I’m not optimistic it’ll be something the president can support,” Rep. Meadows said.
A conservative House GOP aide said to back a deal, Freedom Caucus members wanted at least $2 billion for barriers and no restrictions on new construction, land acquisition or new types of barriers that could be built.
The aide also said the agreement need not contain the term “wall” – a word that was a premier plank of President Trump’s presidential campaign, and which President Trump has lately alternated between embracing and abandoning. The person would talk only on condition of anonymity to describe private talks.
Rep. Meadows’ assessment of President Trump’s view clashed with one expressed Thursday by Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the chief GOP bargainer.
He described the emerging deal to President Trump in the Oval Office and told reporters the session was “the most positive meeting I’ve had in a long time.”
Sen. Shelby said that if the final agreement followed the outline currently under discussion, he believed the president “would sign it.”
President Trump has modest leverage in the battle. Besides facing unified Democratic opposition, there is virtually no GOP support in Congress for another shutdown.
When congressional talks began, President Trump called them a “waste of time.”
“They’ve got to come to a solution that actually does what they promised they would do, which is protect the American people,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox News.
President Trump faces an aggressive, Democratic-led House that is ramping up investigations into Russian involvement in his campaign and businesses and trying to get access to his income tax returns. But ending the border security fight would close one chapter that’s bruised him, including his surrender after a 35-day partial federal shutdown that he started by unsuccessfully demanding taxpayer money to build the border wall.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that an accord could be “a good down payment” and added, “There are other ways to do it and I expect the president to go it alone in some fashion.” Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” on Wednesday, “If Congress won’t participate or won’t go along, we’ll figure out a way to do it with executive authority.”
Members of both parties have expressed opposition to President Trump bypassing Congress by declaring a national emergency at the border, a move that would be certain to produce lawsuits that could block the money.
Lawmakers have grown accustomed to expecting the unexpected from President Trump. Before Christmas, both parties’ leaders believed he’d support a bipartisan deal that would have prevented the recently ended shutdown, only to reverse himself under criticism from conservative pundits and lawmakers.
“There’s a small light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “We just hope it’s not a train coming the other way.”
Associated Press reporters Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
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