WASHINGTON, Feb 16, (AP): Defiant in the wake of a stinging budget defeat, President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency at the US-Mexico border, moving to secure more money for his longpromised wall by exercising a broad interpretation of his presidential powers that is certain to draw stiff legal challenges.
In his emergency proclamation Friday, Trump painted a dark picture of the border as “a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics” and one that threatens “core national security interests.” Overall, though, illegal border crossings are down from a high of 1.6 million in 2000.
His declaration instantly transformed a contentious policy fight into a foundational dispute over the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, spurring talk of a congressional vote to block Trump and ensuring that the president and Democrats will continue fighting over the border wall in Congress, the courts and on the campaign trail. It triggered outrage from Democrats, unease among some Republicans and fl ew in the face of years of GOP complaints that President Barack Obama had over-reached in his use of executive authority.
Trump signed the declaration to justify diverting billions of federal dollars from military construction and other purposes after Congress approved only a fraction of the money he had demanded. The standoff over border funding had led to the longest government shutdown in history.
To avoid another shutdown, Trump reluctantly signed a funding bill Friday that included just $1.4 billion of the $5.7 billion he had demanded for the wall. Trump announced the declaration in a free-wheeling, 50-minute Rose Garden news conference that included a long preamble about his administration’s accomplishments. He jousted with reporters and delivered a sing-song prediction about the fate of the order as it winds its way through the legal system before potentially ending up at the Supreme Court.
“By the president’s very own admission in the Rose Garden, there is no national emergency. He just grew impatient and frustrated with Congress, and decided to move along his promise for a border wall ‘faster,’” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. Some Democratic state attorneys general have also threatened to go to court over the decision.
The text of Trump’s proclamation cited an increase in families coming across the border and an inability to detain families during deportation proceedings – not drugs or violence as the president outlined in his press conference. The top two Democrats in Congress said they’d use “every remedy available” to oppose what they cast as an unlawful measure.
“The President’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said in a joint statement. Trump defended his use of an emergency declaration, saying other presidents had done the same. Other presidents have used emergency powers, but not to pay for projects that Congress wouldn’t support. And Trump himself sent mixed messages as to its necessity. He wrote in the official proclamation that “Because of the gravity of the current emergency situation, it is necessary for the Armed Forces to provide additional support to address the crisis.” But he seemed to tip his hand at a political motive when he said during the news conference, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster,” an admission certain to be cited during legal challenges. Republicans had opposed Trump declaring a national emergency, repeatedly warning that it would set a bad precedent and divide the party when Democrats put it up for a vote.
While many in the GOP on Friday fell in line behind Trump’s decision, others remain opposed. “I don’t believe a national emergency declaration is the solution,” Sen Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said in a statement. “It wouldn’t provide enough funding to adequately secure our borders, it would likely get tied up in litigation, and most concerning is that it would create a new precedent that a left-wing president would undoubtedly utilize to implement their radical policy agenda while bypassing the authority of Congress.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler called for a hearing on the “serious constitutional and statutory issues” the declaration raises, Congressional votes in coming weeks on a resolution blocking the emergency declaration were highly likely, but the timing was uncertain.
Once a resolution is introduced, leaders by law cannot prevent votes on such a measure, which would need a simple majority to pass each chamber. A resolution would all but certainly pass the Democratic- controlled House and may also pass the Republican- run Senate, if a few GOP senators break with Trump. Congress seemed unlikely to muster the twothirds majorities needed in each chamber to override a certain Trump veto. But forcing him to cast his first veto on the issue would underscore internal divisions GOP leaders would rather avoid highlighting.
The American Civil Liberties Union announced its intention to sue less than an hour after the White House released the text of Trump’s declaration that the “current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency.” Nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen filed suit later, urging the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to “bar Trump and the US Department of Defense from using the declaration and funds appropriated for other purposes to build a border wall.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several Democratic state attorneys general already have said they might go to court.
The coming legal fight seems likely to hinge on two main issues: Can the president declare a national emergency to build a border wall in the face of Congress’ refusal to give him all the money he wanted and, under the federal law Trump invoked in his declaration, can the Defense Department take money from some congressionally approved military construction projects to pay for wall construction? The Pentagon has so far not said which projects might be affected. But after weeks of publicly ruminating whether to act, Trump’s signature on the declaration set in motion a quick march to the courthouse.