US President Donald Trump is to invoke rare national emergency powers to secure funding for his planned border wall with Mexico, the White House said.
The controversial move would enable Mr Trump to bypass Congress which has refused to approve the money needed.
Senior Democrats have accused the president of a “gross abuse of power” and a “lawless act”. Several Republicans have also voiced concern.
Building a border wall was a key campaign pledge of Mr Trump’s campaign.
Declaring a national emergency would free Mr Trump from many of the legal constraints on executive power and give him access to billions of dollars for his project.
The president agreed on Thursday to sign a spending bill that does not include finance for the wall. The bill ended two months of deadlock which led to a 35-day government shutdown – the longest in US history.
The spending bill must be signed on Friday to avert another shutdown. Citing unnamed White House officials, US media outlets reported that the president would sign the emergencies act at the same time.
Can Congress stop Trump’s emergency move?
The National Emergencies Act contains a clause that allows Congress to terminate the emergency status if both houses vote for it – and the president does not veto.
With a comfortable majority in the House, Democrats could pass such a resolution to the Senate. The Republicans control the Senate, but a number of Republican senators have been vocal in their unease about the president invoking a national emergency.
The dissenting Republicans include 2012 presidential contender and new senator for Utah Mitt Romney, Florida senator Marco Rubio, and the senator from Maine Lisa Murkowski, who said the move was “of dubious constitutionality”.
The resolution would however still require Mr Trump’s signature to pass, allowing him to veto it. A supermajority in both houses of Congress is needed to overturn a presidential veto.
What did the White House say?
“The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Thursday.
She said Mr Trump would “take other executive action – including a national emergency – to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border”.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated his support for the president’s national emergency move, saying the president was taking action with “whatever tools he can legally use to enhance his efforts to secure the border”.
How have Democrats responded?
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer issued a strongly worded joint statement condemning the move.
“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall,” read the statement.
“He couldn’t convince Mexico, the American people or their elected representatives to pay for his ineffective and expensive wall, so now he’s trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it.”
Ms Pelosi had already suggested that Democrats would mount a legal challenge.