President Donald Trump. Photo: Shealah Craighead / White House

Mark Trahant: President Trump makes case for border wall as shutdown hits tribes

President to make case for border wall on national TV tonight
Is the fight over a budget and a potential ‘emergency’ creating a constitutional crisis?
By Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

President Donald J. Trump will make his case for a border wall tonight at 9 pm Eastern on national TV. This comes as on the 17th day of a “partial government” shutdown, about a quarter of all federal operations, impacting more than 800,000 employees and several hundred thousand contractors including tribal governments.

Democrats have argued that the rest of the government should be reopened while there is a debate about border security. The president’s stance is that this issue is so important that it’s worth the shutdown.

(Previous story: A $5 billion fence? A wall? Weekend meetings planned with Congress, White House)

But the numbers tell a different story. Unauthorized immigration has been in decline for about a decade. And the most recent pitch, that terrorists were coming across the border, was refuted by the administration’s own data on Fox News.

At the White House, Trump told reporters that workers will adjust. “I can relate. And I’m sure that the people that are toward the receiving end will make adjustments, they always do. And they’ll make adjustments. People understand exactly what’s going on.” He added, "many of those people that won’t be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I’m doing."

The president tweeted Monday that he could use emergency powers to build the wall. “Congressman Adam Smith, the new Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, just stated, 'Yes, there is a provision in law that says a president can declare an emergency. It’s been done a number of times.' No doubt, but let’s get our deal done in Congress!”

However in order to use presidential emergency authority the president would have to take away money from the Pentagon. And even that funding stream would come to an end on September 30, 2019, setting up another confrontation with Congress.

And Rep.Smith, D-Washington, said, “This is as clear a statement as any that President Trump values the construction of his wall over military readiness and support for our troops and their families. Diverting money from these military construction accounts could have substantial impacts for service members at installations across the country and on defense projects that are important in supporting readiness, training, operations, and quality of life for military personnel and their families.”

Smith said the president’s actions would “raise major questions about his credibility when he requests his next defense budget from Congress.” The congressman said he was “adamantly opposed to President Trump using an unwise, weak, and irresponsible legal gimmick to circumvent Congress and the American people’s opposition to using taxpayer money for the construction of an unnecessary wall.”

Meanwhile, Indian Country continues to feel the impact of the shutdown.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, said on MSNBC this morning that the chairman of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa told her that tribal police are not being paid because of the shutdown. Funding for tribal law enforcement contracts are on hold during the shutdown.

Regis Pecos, a former Cochiti Pueblo governor and co-director of the Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School, told The Albuquerque Journal that “it’s not an exaggeration to say the compounding effects become life-and-death situations for many of the most vulnerable people.”

An email blast from the National Congress of American Indians said “The shutdown breaks the treaty and trust obligations to tribal nations. Many agencies that fulfill treaty and trust obligations to tribal nations, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, are caught up in unrelated DC politics over a southern border wall. The President and Congress should immediately reopen the government and have a separate debate on funding for the Department of Homeland Security.”

NCAI said: “Health, tribal government, and social services make up a large share of tribal economies. Many tribal workers who should be receiving a federal paycheck are struggling to pay household bills. Furloughs and missed paychecks will not just hurt the workers, but their families as well. A single federal salary may support an extended family, sending harmful ripples throughout the tribal nation and surrounding economies as well.”

The shutdown is particularly challenging for tribal nations with the greatest need. “While some tribal nations are able to use reserves of tribal revenue to fund public services that are not receiving federal funds now, many tribal nations with fewer resources do not have enough reserves to do so,” the NCAI email blast said.

The shutdown already will have a long-term impact on the day to day operations of federal agencies. For example checks for royalties and other individual Indian funds cannot be accessed while trust officers are on furlough from the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians. In addition there is already a backlog of probate cases by the Interior Department’s Office of Hearings and Appeals. That means probate cases scheduled for this week will have to be rescheduled.

Mark Trahant is the editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports.

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