After weeks of battling over funding for a worthless border wall that won’t do shit, overseeing the longest government shutdown in US history, and finally signing on to a deal to fund the government, Donald Trump has declared a national emergency over a contrived crisis at the US Mexican Border. On Friday, February 15, 2019, Trump invoked this power in a unilateral effort to make progress on the stupid border wall Congress has previously denied him. Initially, he demanded $5 billion for constructing a 200-mile barrier at the border. Naturally, congressional Democrats have repeatedly refused to go anywhere near that number. In the final deal, he got about $1.3 billion for border fencing, far less than the desired amount. So unhappy with the money and not getting his way, Trump went to declare a national emergency to get more.
So where will all this money come from? Well, Donald Trump will try cobbling together from a number of areas and redirect them for border wall construction. According to White House officials, this money would comprise of $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund or money seized by the US government, $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense’s counter-drug activities, and $3.6 billion from other military construction accounts. Though Trump won’t try to take anything from disaster relief, yet.
Now the fact Donald Trump has declared a national emergency in addition to a spending deal isn’t surprising since he’s been wavering on the idea for weeks. So why declare a national emergency when he’s already got a spending deal? Because Trump doesn’t want to admit he lost. Since he’s already getting less for border fencing than he would’ve gotten in the bill he refused to sign in December and caused a 35-day shutdown over it. So he’s going for executive action instead despite that it’s debatable whether he can since no emergency at the border exists.
Since 1976, many presidents have declared national emergencies since there were 31 before Donald Trump’s declaration. However, the National Emergencies Act of 1976 only allows presidents to declare national emergencies in specific circumstances. So Trump can only use specific powers Congress has already codified in law. And he has to say which power he’s using. Besides, thanks to a little incident called Watergate, the 1976 law was meant to rein in presidential power and how presidents declared national emergencies. But it doesn’t define what counts or doesn’t.
Despite Donald Trump’s fearmongering about an influx of dangerous undocumented immigrants and terrorists at the US Mexican border, no such crisis exists. In fact, there’s no significant shift in the situation in recent days or weeks suddenly rendering such urgent action needed. However, we do have lingering crises with healthcare, opioids, climate change, aging infrastructure, family separations at the border, economic inequality, environmental devastation, right-wing and white supremacist terrorism, and more. But no. Besides, Trump has spent 2 years of an entirely-controlled Republican Congress to do something about immigration. While there’s been no significant shift in the situation that suddenly renders urgent actions unnecessary.
This isn’t the first time that Donald Trump has invented an immigration crisis when it’s convenient. Ahead of the midterms, he warned about a dire threat from a migrant caravan, only to essentially drop the issue after the elections. Sure, asylum seekers in the US have been on the rise, but seeking asylum is legal. But Trump’s not focusing on that. Congress won’t pay for his stupid border wall. And Trump thinks he’ll lose his base if he abandons it. So he’s creating a panic and going to any length possible to get it done.
Essentially, given the context, Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration is illegal and sets a dangerous precedent if it succeeds. Under Article I of the US Constitution clearly states, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” So only Congress can make such laws relating to public funds in non-emergency situations. Thus, no one person can seize control of our nation’s public funds. And even if Trump can declare a national emergency to get the money he wants, that’s not enough to build a wall. He also needs the authority of eminent domain from numerous unwilling owners, which must be expressed by the legislature. And there’s no clear authorization here.
This also puts a test on the Republican Party’s lack of willingness to stand up to Donald Trump. After spending years of complaining about Barack Obama’s overreach, they have so far deferred to Trump and encouraged Americans to do the same. But in this case, Republicans have expressed concern that Trump’s emergency declaration might lead to future Democratic presidents doing the same on issues like healthcare or climate change. Of course, their fears are well founded, since healthcare and climate change are actual national emergencies. The fact Trump basically declared a national emergency at the border before golfing at Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, it’s clear he’s abusing his power. Thus, Trump’s emergency declaration is an obvious fraud since in a real emergency, you act fast.
As usual, Donald Trump will likely face court challenges over this declaration and he’ll probably see it as some vast radical left-wing conspiracy that’s out to get him. While he deserves to lose, it’s possible he could prevail since courts often give presidents undue deference on immigration and national security issues. But should he win, it would set a very dangerous precedents. Again, he can also see pushback from Congress, which can pass a joint resolution to override it with 2/3 majority in both houses. But that’s not going to happen since the Republicans have control of the Senate and will do whatever Trump wants. Nonetheless, the fact Trump basically declared a national emergency at the border before golfing at Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, it’s clear he’s abusing his power. Thus, Trump’s emergency declaration is an obvious fraud since in a real emergency, you act fast. In fake national emergencies, you act when the political timing is right to cover your ass because you need to back down from an ill-advised congressional fight followed from an ill-advised campaign promise.
Of course, US-Mexico border security isn’t perfect. But the world is full of problems that aren’t “emergencies” in the sense of requiring some kind of urgent extralegal repurposing of funds. Nonetheless, by robbing the nation’s drug interdiction and military construction budgets for his stupid border wall, Donald Trump will more likely make the nation’s problems worse than better. Since fencing our southern border has been ongoing for decades and is subject to diminishing returns, with valuable sections already fenced in.
In the past couple of months, the real crisis on display is Donald Trump’s total incompetence you can see from miles away. For he doesn’t understand a policy agenda or get anything done. Without Paul Ryan around to drive a legislative agenda he could rubber stamp, he’s failing. First, it’s shutting down the government and throwing millions of people’s lives into chaos. Second, it’s reopening the government having gotten nothing he could’ve had in December while adopting a “Hail Mary” scheme that will only make things worse. Though it’s better than a real shutdown, we should all be worried that Trump can’t handle a real crisis if it’s staring at him in the face.
This whole stupid wall farce began back in 2015 when Donald Trump promised to build a wall across the entire US-Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. Even anyone with half a brain could see that this was an extremely stupid idea that was wasteful and unworkable in every way. But somehow thanks to racism and xenophobia, Trump transmogrified his opponents‘ mockery into a test of will. According to him, the political establishment didn’t want to secure the border, but Trump did. And the wall was proof. Now that Trump is in office much to our nightmares, he has been confronting the reality that his critics were right in every way. Since Mexico obviously won’t pay for his stupid border wall, he needs congressional appropriations and the cost-benefit analysis is valid. Trump has long ago conceded that he can’t build a wall across the entire border since there are places where It’s infeasible and useless. Not to mention, he’s also conceded that there won’t be a wall at all, but the previous steel bollard anti-pedestrian fencing he had previously mocked is a useful barrier and that Border Patrol prefers its see-through quality.
Thus, on a practical level, this whole dispute is simply about the spending levels and construction pace of a type of border hardening that’s been underway for years. While Republicans think it’s important, Democrats find this border hardening rightfully wasteful. Any halfway competent president would see this as the most banal political controversy imaginable. Since if you want to get money for a pet project, you have to offer something to your opponents in exchange. But Donald Trump’s problem here is that the wall is such a terrible idea that his allies and staff know it. The sort of illicit border crossings that these pedestrian fences are supposed to prevent have already fallen to very low levels and the immigration conversation has moved on to other things like the treatment of asylum-seeking families from Central America. But because the wall is bad, immigration hawks don’t want to make any meaningful concessions to get it. Anytime talks seem to take off about some swap of help for DREAMers in exchange for wall money, the hawks swoop in with a bunch of other demands having nothing to do with the wall. That conservatives don’t want to make concessions on an inherently bad idea is reasonable. But at the same time, if your allies aren’t willing to make concessions on a bad idea, it’s better to let the matter slide, not throw a tantrum. But Trump won’t do that.
First, the shutdown and now the “emergency” both stem from the basic fact that Donald Trump will neither admit the whole spiel was crock nor decide to act like someone who genuinely wants a wall and make a deal to get it. Instead, everyone’s time and money will be wasted on litigation while money will be taken away from duly authorized programs and sent to a useless construction project nobody really wants. This isn’t the worst thing anyone has done in American politics. Hell, it’s not even close to being the worst thing Trump has ever done. But it’s arguably the most absurd. Not to mention, it once again raises the fundamental question about Trump. When you have a president who can’t handle relatively banal problems like a $5 billion appropriation for a pet project, what will happen when a real crisis hits? Oh, wait, he is the crisis.