Locked in a battle of political chicken with Democrats in the Congress, President Donald Trump will speak to the nation on Tuesday night to press his case for extra money to fortify the southern U.S. border against illegal immigration, as the Trump Administration scrambled to soften the impacts of an extended partial government shutdown, with the Internal Revenue Service announcing it would process tax refunds in coming weeks and months even if the Congress and the President don't end a funding lapse which started before Christmas.
The IRS decision came amid a growing impact of the partial shutdown around the nation, as some 800,000 federal workers - whether they've been on the job since the funding lapse began just before Christmas or not - seemed unlikely to receive a pay check as scheduled on Friday January 11, as the fight over funding for the President's border wall escalated on Monday.
"We are committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive their refunds notwithstanding the government shutdown," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.
In a written statement, the IRS announced it would be "recalling a significant portion of its workforce" - without pay if the shutdown continues - to process millions of tax returns, as the agency said the tax filing season would begin on January 28.
The move was a change in policy from a shutdown in 2011, when the Obama Administration found that tax work could not be done by the IRS during a funding lapse.
The move came as the President decided to make his first formal address to the nation from the Oval Office, amid talk that Mr. Trump would declare a national emergency, and use extraordinary executive powers to move money around in the federal budget in order to build his border wall.
Asked by reporters if the President was going to take that route, Vice President Mike Pence said Monday that "the President said in front of all you, just the other day, that it's something that he's considering looking into."
Legal experts said it was unclear whether the President had the legal power to move such funds around for a border wall, though the post-World War II Congress has approved dozens of laws giving emergency authorities to the Executive.
Democrats were not convinced.
"His national emergency is completely made up," said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).
"Stop pretending that the wall is a national emergency," said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA). "No one is falling for it."
Meanwhile, the White House sent the Congress over $7 billion in new requests for resources to deal with illegal immigration, ranging from money for a border barrier to extra immigration and border patrol agents.
The White House request for funds includes:
+ $5.7 billion for "construction of a steel barrier" along the border with Mexico. This would be $4.1 billion over when lawmakers had originally planned to spend on border security (fencing, barriers, and other security measures).
+ $311 million for new border patrol agents; this would be an increase of $100 million.
+ $571 million for 2,000 'additional law enforcement personnel' to enforce federal immigration laws. This money was not included in the President's original 2019 budget.
+ $675 million for counter-narcotics efforts along the border. This would be an increase of $631 million over the 2019 Senate GOP plan.
+ An extra $798 million for detention of illegal immigrants. This would give the Trump Administration $4.2 billion to fund the 52,000 detention beds.
+ An additional $800 million 'to address urgent humanitarian needs,' to deal with detained illegal immigrants.
The budget request came after an unusual weekend of meetings involving Vice President Mike Pence and top Congressional staffers - no lawmakers of either party were present for the meetings, which was a signal to many on Capitol Hill that an agreement on border funding was not near.
Democratic leaders in the House had no plans to vote on the extra money, reminding the President of his much-touted campaign promise to have Mexico foot the bill for the wall.
"On Day One of the new Congress, the House passed bipartisan legislation that honors our responsibility to protect the American people with funding for smart, effective border security solutions – just not the President’s wasteful and ineffective wall," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.