U.S. government funding bill passes Congress, ready for Trump's signature

Both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a government funding bill Thursday that would avert another shutdown — but that does not contain the $5.7 billion US Trump wanted for a border wall. It now needs the president's signature ahead of a deadline of midnight on Friday to become law.

White House says U.S. President Donald Trump will sign it, but with a catch

Congress passed the bill on Thursday. Trump will speak Friday morning in the Rose Garden about border security, the White House said. (The Associated Press)

Both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a government funding bill Thursday that would avert another partial shutdown.

The bill, however, does not contain the $5.7 billion US President Donald Trump wanted for a border wall. It now needs the president's signature ahead of a deadline of Friday at midnight to become law. 

The White House said earlier in the day that Trump will sign the bill, but that he will also declare a national emergency to get the wall built.

"The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country," said Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. 

An emergency declaration to shift funding from other federal priorities to the border is expected to face swift legal challenge.

The White House says U.S. President Donald Trump will sign the bill designed to avert another government shutdown, but he will also declare a national emergency to get the funding he wants to build the border wall with Mexico. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

The bipartisan legislation provides more than $300 billion to fund the Department of Homeland Security and a range of other federal agencies through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Funding is due to expire for those agencies on Friday.

While it does not contain the money Trump demanded for the wall, it does contain $1.37 billion in new money to help build 88.5 km of new physical barriers on the border. It is the same level of funding Congress appropriated for border security measures last year, including barriers but not concrete walls.

Trump will almost certainly face legal challenges if he does declare a national emergency to get additional funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, circumventing the power of Congress to set spending policy.

The administration has been eyeing several pots of money — including disaster funds, counter-narcotic accounts and military construction dollars — to fund the wall, according to congressional aides and White House officials.

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has said there are various accounts available.

Shifting funds

One possibility is shifting a portion of the $13 billion in disaster aid Congress approved last year for Puerto Rico and a dozen states, including California and Texas, hit hard by hurricanes, flooding and other disasters. The money funds Army Corps projects, and the Puerto Rico aid alone totals more than $2 billion.

But Texas lawmakers revolted over White House plans to tap Hurricane Harvey funds, and Republican Sen. John Cornyn said Thursday they won assurances from the White House that the money won't be used for the wall.

"We've been pretty clear we thought that would be a mistake," said Cornyn, who along with the state's governor and other lawmakers urged the White House to stay away from that account. "There's limited pots of money he can get into, but I'm pretty confident he won't get into disaster funds."

A more likely option is the military construction account that's used to upgrade bases and facilities.

U.S demonstrators hold hands at the open border to make a human wall in support of the construction of the new border wall between U.S and Mexico February 9. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Legal scholars said it is unclear how such a step would play out, but they agree a court test would likely focus on whether an emergency actually exists on the southern border and on the limits of presidential power over taxpayer funds.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she might file a legal challenge. 

"We will review our options," she said, adding that Democrats would respond "appropriately."

Legal challenge could bump up against 2020 election

A long legal fight could stretch into Trump's 2020 re-election bid, and embolden critics who already accuse him of authoritarian tendencies and unpredictable swerves in policy-making.

Some Democratic state attorneys general are already saying they may go to court to block any declaration of a national emergency on the southern border.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California wrote Thursday on Twitter that any border crisis is of the president's own making and "we will do what we must to hold him accountable."

His counterpart in Washington state, Bob Ferguson, said that if Trump's declaration depletes federal aid to the state, he'll "take appropriate steps to block this unlawful action."

The Democratic Party's field of presidential hopefuls was split on support for the bill.

It won support from Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who launched her presidential campaign Sunday, and from Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is expected to join the Democratic primary soon. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, another Democrat weighing a presidential run, also voted in favor.

White House hopefuls who opposed the legislation include California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Sanders said he has "concerns" about the bill but "I cannot turn my back on" federal workers who would have to work unpaid in a government shutdown.

With files from Reuters