Citing a humanitarian crisis on the southern border, President Trump declared a national emergency yesterday from the White House. The declaration would allow the President to repurpose funds for the construction of a border wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
The federal government shut down for a record 34 days over December and January over an impasse between the White House and Democrats in Congress over funding for the wall. The stalemate ended when President Trump agreed to a short-term funding resolution reopening the government for 3 weeks while a bipartisan conference committee negotiated a deal on border security.
That committee reached an agreement this week, but it provided $1.375 billion for construction of barriers along the southern border – substantially less than the $5.7 billion the White House requested. The amount was even less than the $1.6 billion contained in the Democrats’ offer to the President in December, before the shutdown.
President Trump, however dissatisfied with the agreement reached, indicated he would sign the spending bill, funding the government through the end of the fiscal year (September 30), and look for funds for the wall elsewhere.
The Trump administration as identified about $8.1 billion in funds available for use for the border wall, which includes $1.375 billion from the spending bill approved this week and around $6.7 billion in reprogrammed funds.
By declaring a national emergency the President says he can reallocate $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, up to $2.5 billion from a Department of Defense counternarcotic activities fund and up to $3.6 billion from Department of Defense military construction projects.
The President downplayed the effect reprogramming the funds would have on military readiness.
“We had certain funds that are being used at the discretion…of the military. Some of them haven’t been allocated yet, and some of the generals think that this is more important,” the President said during a press conference from the Rose Garden.
“I was speaking to a couple of them. They think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said, ‘What were you going to use it for?’ And I won’t go into details, but it didn’t sound too important to me,” he added.
Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, Congress can pass a resolution striking down the declaration. That resolution would likely be vetoed by the President however and it is unlikely there are enough votes in Congress to override such a veto.
The President’s announcement, while not unexpected, drew criticism from congressional Democrats.
“The President’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security of our military and our nation,” read a joint statement issued by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process,” the statement added.
Some in the President’s own party also voiced concern about the move.
“Unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called the move.
“It is…of dubious constitutionality,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
“We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, echoing warnings from Democrats that the step sets a dangerous precedent.
“Today’s national emergency is border security. But a future president may use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal. I will wait to see what statutory or constitutional power the president relies on to justify such a declaration before making any definitive statement. But I am skeptical it will be something I can support,” he said.
Not all Republicans are against the move however. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for example, has been calling for the President to declare a national emergency since January.
Importantly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he is in agreement with the President. “I’ve indicated to him that I’m going to support the national emergency declaration,” McConnell said from the Senate floor Thursday in making the announcement.
In addition to the congressional resolution, Democrats are likely to mount legal challenges against the declaration. Constitutional experts agree the Democrats’ case would be on sound legal footing, as the Constitution grants the power of purse solely to Congress.
President Trump acknowledged the tricky road ahead should such challenges come but said ultimately he will prevail.
“I’ll sign the final papers as soon as I get into the Oval Office…and then we will be sued…and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling. And then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court…and we’ll win in the Supreme Court,” the President said.
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