US President Donald Trump departed on Thursday for a visit to the US-Mexico border as he continues to push for a border wall, a demand that the opposition Democrats in Congress reject.
The stalemate over funding the wall has resulted in a partial government shutdown that has lasted nearly three weeks.
Before boarding a helicopter to embark on the trip, Trump renewed his threat to declare a national emergency, which would give him a path around Congress to fund a wall.
“I’m not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to do that, I will,” Trump said. “I may do it. If this doesn’t work out, I probably will do it. I would say definitely.”
Trump and members of his administration claim there is a crisis at the border caused by illegal immigration, the flow of drugs into the United States and a situation that encourages human trafficking.
The controversial move would certainly face legal challenges as experts and Democratic lawmakers say the situation on the US-Mexico border does not constitute a national emergency.
Also on Thursday, Trump tweeted that he will not attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month “because of the Democrats’ intransigence on border security.”
Trump told reporters before departing from Texas that he would not attend the economic conference “if the shutdown continues” indicating that there is no end in site to the budget impasse.
The president repeated his claim that a wall or steel barrier is the only way to control those problems. He said Democrats could solve the budget impasse in “15 minutes if they wanted to.”
The dispute centres on 5.7 billion dollars Trump wants Congress to approve for building a wall. Democrats have refused to fund the wall, slamming the proposed barrier as ineffective and a waste of tax dollars.
The partial shutdown has meant hundreds of thousands of US government employees are staying home or working without pay.
There has been no sign of progress in negotiations to end the shutdown. A meeting on Wednesday between Trump and top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer ended abruptly, with Schumer saying Trump threw a “temper tantrum.”
Trump denied Schumer’s characterization, saying he “very calmly walked out of the room” when Pelosi said she would not agree to funding for border security or the wall.
The president charged that Democrats are looking ahead to the 2020 election in trying to stymie his plan to build a wall.