Trump set to focus on immigration in State of the Union speech

Fears US president could declare national emergency to secure funding for border wall

In an interview, US president Donald Trump did not rule out a second government shutdown if he does not secure funding for his border wall. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump will deliver his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night, against the background of continuing uncertainty about a possible government shutdown next week.

Mr Trump is scheduled to deliver his speech at 9pm eastern time to a joint session of the Houses of Congress, which will also be attended by the justices of the Supreme Court. The annual speech, which was delayed by a week because of last month's government shutdown, is typically an opportunity for the sitting president to lay out his or her policy priorities and is carried on prime-time television across the United States.

Though officials said the president would stress the need for unity in his speech, Mr Trump is expected to focus on immigration – a key theme of his presidential campaign and a key stumbling block in his negotiations with Democrats on funding the government. Mr Trump is continuing to demand money for a proposed border wall with Mexico, a measure Democrats oppose.

In a CBS interview to coincide with the Super Bowl sports final on Sunday, Mr Trump did not rule out a second government shutdown if he does not secure funding for his border wall.


“We’re going to see what happens on February 15th,” he said. “I don’t take anything off the table. It’s a national emergency. We need a wall, and anybody who says you don’t, you’re just playing games.”

National emergency

There is growing expectation that Mr Trump could declare a national emergency in order to secure funding for the wall, which would allow him to bypass Congress and tap department of defence funds directly. Mr Trump last week hinted that he could indicate his intentions regarding the declaration of a national emergency during his State of the Union speech, telling reporters to watch the speech closely. “I think you’ll find it very exciting,” he said.

But there were reports that this could risk a backlash even within his own party, with Congress likely to pass a resolution disapproving of an emergency declaration, a move that would force the president to issue a veto. In particular some Republicans are concerned that declaring a national emergency could set a precedent that could be used by Democratic presidents in the future.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a key ally of Mr Trump, urged his fellow Republicans to support the president if he declared a national emergency.

"To every Republican, if you don't stand behind this president, we're not going to stand behind you when it comes to the wall," he said, in a speech in South Carolina. "This is the defining moment of his presidency. It's not just about a wall, it's about him being treated different than every other president."

Democrats are among those likely to bring a legal challenge to any move by the president to declare a national emergency in order to build the wall on the southern border.

Meanwhile, on Monday Mr Trump nominated lobbyist and lawyer David Bernhardt to head the department of the interior. Mr Bernhardt replaced Ryan Zinke as acting interior secretary on January 2nd.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent