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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he “probably” will declare a national emergency if he can’t get Congress to agree to fund a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

“I’m not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to, I will,” he told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House as he departed for a trip to McAllen, Texas, to see the border up close. “If this doesn’t work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.”

His fight with lawmakers over the $5.7 billion he wants for the wall led to a partial government shutdown Dec. 22 that remains in effect, with the White House and Congress at an impasse over whether even a single dollar should be spent on the barrier he promised to build on Mexico’s dime during his 2016 campaign.

Trump walked out of a meeting with congressional leaders in the White House Situation Room Thursday after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told him that Democrats would not agree to pay for the wall within 30 days if he consented to re-opening shuttered federal agencies.

Trump said Thursday that there are “various mechanisms” for circumventing Congress to get money for the wall and that White House lawyers have advised him that he has the authority to declare a national emergency. The most obvious pot of money is in the Pentagon’s budget, which allows the secretary of Defense to transfer up to $4 billion between accounts under certain conditions.

But he said going around Congress isn’t his preferred route.

“I would like to do the deal through Congress and because it makes sense to do it through Congress,” he said. “The easy route for me would have been to call a national emergency to do it.”

Pressed on why Mexico isn’t paying for the wall — a staple promise of Trump’s 2016 campaign — the president said he hadn’t meant that literally.

“When, during the campaign, I would say Mexico’s going to pay for it, obviously, I never said this, and I never meant, they’re gonna write out a check,” he said. “I said they’re gonna pay for it. They are. They are paying for it with the incredible deal we made called the United States Mexico and Canada, USMCA deal.”

But Trump told the Washington Post in 2016 that Mexico could make a one-time payment for the wall, and economists have cast doubt on whether the trade deal — which is essentially an update of the old North America Free Trade Agreement — is likely to produce significant new revenue for the U.S. government.

Trump’s visit to Texas comes two days after he delivered a primetime address to the nation on what he repeatedly referred to as a “crisis” on the border and one day after brief talks with congressional leaders over the wall and the shutdown ended with him saying “bye-bye” and exiting the room.

On Thursday, he disputed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s claim that he had slammed the table before departing Wednesday’s meeting.

“I didn’t pound on tables. I didn’t raise my voice,” Trump said. “That was a lie. … Schumer always has his stand in line. ‘He had a temper tantrum.’ I don’t have temper tantrums, I really don’t. But it plays to his narrative.”

In retrospect, Trump said, maybe he should have displayed more anger.

“I didn’t smash the table,” he said. “I should have, but I didn’t smash the table.”

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Politics

Supreme Court declines to change double jeopardy rule in a case with Manafort implications

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined on Monday to change the longstanding rule that says putting someone on trial more than once for the same crime does not violate the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy — a case that drew attention because of its possible implications for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The 7-2 ruling was a defeat for an Alabama man, Terance Gamble, convicted of robbery in 2008 and pulled over seven years later for a traffic violation. When police found a handgun in his car, he was prosecuted under Alabama’s law barring felons from possessing firearms. The local U.S. attorney then charged Gamble with violating a similar federal law. Because of the added federal conviction, his prison sentence was extended by nearly three years.

The Fifth Amendment says no person shall be “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” for the same offense. But for more than 160 years, the Supreme Court has ruled that being prosecuted once by a state and again in federal court, or the other way around, for the same crime doesn’t violate the protection against double jeopardy because the states and the federal government are “separate sovereigns.”

The case attracted more than the usual attention because of the prospect that Trump may pardon Manafort, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for violating federal fraud laws. A presidential pardon could free him from federal prison, but it would not protect him from being prosecuted on similar state charges, which were filed by New York. Overturning the rule allowing separate prosecutions for the same offenses would have worked in Manafort’s favor.

Gamble’s lawyer, Louis Chaiten of Cleveland, said the nation’s founders understood the protection against double jeopardy to ban any second prosecution for the same offense. Under English common law, the roots of American law, there was no “separate sovereigns” exception. A person could not be put on trial in England if already tried for the same offense in another country.

Chaiten also argued that the states and the federal government are not truly independent anyway and are instead part of a complete national system. He quoted Alexander Hamilton, who described them as “kindred systems, part of one whole.”

And Chaiten said Congress has made the problem worse by dramatically expanding the number and scope of federal laws in recent years, creating more duplication with state laws — something never envisioned in earlier court decisions that allowed double prosecutions.

But the Trump administration said the longstanding double jeopardy rule allows states and the federal government to pursue distinct interests without interfering with each other. Changing the current understanding by barring subsequent prosecutions would allow foreign court actions to preclude U.S. trials for crimes against Americans, the government said.

Civil liberties groups also said the rule has allowed the federal government to pursue notorious civil rights violations that states were unwilling or unable to pursue.

Gamble’s argument appealed to some of the court’s liberals and conservatives. Two years ago, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas joined liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in saying that the court’s past double jeopardy rulings were due for a “fresh examination.”



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Supreme Court blocks suit over racially gerrymandered districts in Virginia

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday tossed out a lawsuit in Virginia over political boundaries for its state Legislature.

By a 5-4 vote — but not strictly along the usual conservative/liberal divide — the court said Virginia’s House of Delegates did not have the legal right to carry on a fight over the map once state officials bowed out.

The dispute arose after the last census when the Republican-controlled Legislature redrew the district lines for the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates. In response to a lawsuit, a federal court declared the map invalid, concluding that it unconstitutionally sorted voters based on race. A redrawn map was seen as more favorable to Democrats.

Virginia’s attorney general declined to appeal, and the House of Delegates picked up the fight. But the Supreme Court said a single house of the Legislature had no authority to do so.

“The House observes that Virginia gives redistricting authority to the ‘General Assembly.’ True enough,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote. But, she said, “One house of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process.”

She was joined by two of the court’s other liberals, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, but also by two of the court’s most conservative members, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called the ruling a big win for democracy.

“It’s unfortunate that House Republicans wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and months of litigation in a futile effort to protect racially gerrymandered districts, but the good news is that this fall’s elections will take place in constitutionally drawn districts,” Herring said.

Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general during the Obama administration, called the decision “an important victory for African Americans in Virginia who have been forced since 2011 to vote in racially gerrymandered districts that unfairly diluted their voting power.”

“With a new, fair map in place, all Virginians will now — finally — have the opportunity this fall to elect a House of Delegates that actually represents the will of the people,” Holder said.

Monday’s decision will have no practical effect, because the Supreme Court had earlier allowed elections to proceed using the redrawn map that the House of Delegates opposed.



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Biden diagnosed the problem, but I’ve got the solution

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When Joe Biden jumped into the presidential race in April, one of his competitors, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, said the former vice president gets the economic problems facing Americans in the middle of the country.

Ryan told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle the former vice president understands how blue collar workers are struggling, a problem Ryan said he gets as well. But, the congressman said he thinks he’s the one with answers for those problems, not Biden.

Referring to a clip of Biden speaking about the problems facing Rust Belt workers, Ryan said he’d be “talking about the issues that are important and talking about the anxiety the vice president just mentioned,” but would be the one who will have “innovative solutions,” including creating “an industrial policy in the United States.”

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