The President’s Emergency - Crisis at the Southern Border?
By Bill Phan
On a sunny day in the Rose Garden, February 15, 2019, President Donald Trump addressed reporters, declaring a national emergency concerning the border between the United States and Mexico. President Trump, in the press conference, “ping-ponged from topic to topic, touching on the economy, China trade talks and his coming summit meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un,” according to the New York Times.
The emergency declaration came from his campaign promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. After having been denied $5.7 billion from Congress to carry out his promise, leading to a partial government shutdown, President Trump reluctantly signed a bipartisan deal that would give a mere $1.375 billion to further construction of fencing for the border, the Times reported. The bill specifically prohibited any of the wall prototypes the President reviewed last year, instead constraining the Department of Homeland Security to existing technology. In short, there will not be a steel or concrete wall built as part of this bill.
The national emergency, therefore, is for the President to use funds allocated from elsewhere to fund the wall. CNBC specifically reported that, besides the $1.375 billion from the bill, the President can also get “$600 million from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense's drug interdiction program and $3.6 billion from the Department of Defense's military construction account.” Acting Chief of Staff of the White House Mick Mulvaney has also suggested Puerto Rico and California disaster relief funds to be allocated towards the wall, according to Politico.
As one would expect, Democrats have expressed displeasure at the declaration. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Republicans “should have some dismay to the door that they are opening, the threshold they are crossing,” reported USA Today. Even some Republicans have expressed wariness at President Trump’s actions. Republican Senator Marco Rubio said that future Democratic presidents could “use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal” and that he is “skeptical it will be something I can support.”
The Washington Post though has shown that most Republican senators right now either support or do not have a view on the emergency. 10 of them upright support it, including Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader and instrumental in passing the $1.375 billion funding bill. Five Republican senators outright oppose the declaration, and 16 expressed concerns about it.
But national emergency declarations come in many forms, and President Trump’s is only a latest in a long line of declarations from both Democratic and Republican Presidents. Sanctions, trade regulations and weapons restrictions, according to the New York Times, all qualify technically as national emergencies. In fact, 32 of them are still active because of this definition. Trump’s national emergency though, falls in the small category of military action, shared only by a declaration by President George W. Bush in response to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack.
Led by California, 16 states on Monday, Feb. 18 are suing the President’s declaration, according to BBC News. The legal challenge is to “protect their residents, natural resources, and economic interests from President Donald J. Trump’s flagrant disregard of fundamental separation of powers principles engrained in the United States Constitution,” claims the lawsuit in a press release by California’s official website. The states suing the President include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia.
Democrats in the House of Representatives are also mounting a challenge to the president’s declaration. Democratic representative from Texas Joaquin Castro introduced a resolution in the House that would “block the White House’s declaration,” according to CBS News. It has garnered 78 co-sponsors. While it is likely to pass in the Democratic-majority House, the resolution has less of a chance of passing the Senate. While it might be possible for Democrats to splinter some of the more critical Republicans listed earlier in the article, it is not easy to get the ⅔ veto-proof majority needed.
President Trump actually predicted this, saying in the Rose Garden address that “we will then be sued, [...] possibly get a bad ruling, [...] another bad ruling, and then we will end up in the Supreme Court [...] and we’ll win the Supreme Court, just like the [travel] ban [the Trump administration imposed upon some Middle East countries and North Korea in 2017].”
Regardless of politicians’ opinions and the declaration’s legal precedent, the general public mostly disapproves of President Trump’s actions, according to a Hill-HarrisX poll conducted from February 17-18. 41% support the declaration, with 75% approval from surveyed Republicans, 18% from Democrats, and 49% from Independent registered voters.