GREENVILLE — As a Feb. 15 deadline approaches, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday he is "not very optimistic" Democrats and Republicans can strike a deal over border wall funding and encouraged President Donald Trump to take the issue into his own hands.
Trump gave congressional negotiators three weeks to come up with an agreement before partial government funding runs out, setting up another potential federal shutdown.
"I'll be disappointed if we don't get money for the wall, the barrier, whatever you want to call it," Graham, R-S.C., told reporters before speaking to the First Monday GOP club in Greenville.
"It seems to me that (Trump) is going to have to go it alone," he said.
Graham acknowledged, however, that the emergency powers debate could ignite a "war within the Republican Party" over whether the president should take a unilateral route — a position some view as a last resort but others believe should be off the table completely.
Republicans concerned about the idea of Trump using his emergency powers for the wall reportedly includes the Senate's most powerful member: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The Washington Post reported Friday that McConnell has privately cautioned Trump against taking the emergency powers route out of concern it would divide the GOP and risk political blowback, including the possibility of Congress voting to disapprove of the emergency declaration.
Graham said he has not spoken directly to McConnell about the issue since then but called on his Republican colleagues to stick together in pursuit of the $5.7 billion in funding for wall, calling it the "defining moment" of Trump's presidency.
"I hope Republicans will get behind the president if he makes that decision to go it alone if Congress won't work with him," Graham said. "To any Republican who denies the president the ability to act as commander in chief, you're going to create a real problem within the party."
Some Republicans fear how a future Democratic president would use emergency powers if Trump sets a precedent of relying on it for what opponents view as a political goal. Graham said he is "not at all" worried about that.
"To me, this is within the power of every commander in chief," he said.
Despite the ongoing disagreements between the two parties, Graham said he does not believe the government will shut down again and has told the president it would give him no leverage in the debate.
"The best way to do this, if we can’t get a deal with Congress, is for the president to take money that’s already appropriated for national security, unobligated, and apply it to a border barrier," Graham said. "I’m hopeful that we can do that without shutting down the government. I think shutting down the government does not enhance the cause of border security."
In Greenville, @LindseyGrahamSC says he’s “not very optimistic” about the odds of a wall funding deal with Democrats.“It seems to me that (Trump) is going to have to go it alone. But there could be a war within the Republican Party over the wall...” #scpol pic.twitter.com/DMpfB2UgwT— Jamie Lovegrove (@jslovegrove) February 4, 2019