On Friday, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency after saying that he will sign a funding bill that will avoid a government shutdown. In December, Trump shut down large portions of the federal government because Congress would not give him the $5.7 billion he requested for a border wall. The shutdown ended after 35 days — the longest shutdown in U.S. history — with a temporary funding bill to give congressional Democrats, Republicans, and the White House time to negotiate a deal. On Thursday, Congress passed a spending bill that will fund the government until Sept. 30th and avoid another shutdown. Trump is expected to sign the bill even though it appropriates only $1.375 billion for the wall — much less than Trump wanted.
But Trump is poised to find funding for the wall anyway by declaring a national emergency — a constitutional right of a president to spend money without the permission of Congress in times of crisis.
Declaring a national emergency is not rare and many other presidents have done it — often multiple times. But, declaring a national emergency over an issue so political, and in such clear contradiction to appropriation decisions of Congress, has drawn criticism from both sides over norm-breaking, the precedent it sets, and politics of fear. Here’s a roundup of what people are saying about this big news.
To declare a national emergency there needs to be a crisis, emergency, some imminent threat to the nation that is moving quickly and hence there is no time to respond to it by the regular channels that provide checks and balances. Many pushed against the notion that illegal crossing of the southern border is an emergency. MSNBC host Chris Hayes was at the border last night and tweeted a calm photo of El Paso with the caption, “What the “emergency” looks like.”
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote a column that argues there is no national emergency at the southern border but there is one in the White House: “[declaring a national emergency] does not give Trump the right to fund projects that Congress will not approve. Authoritarian leaders do that sort of thing. The puffed-up wannabe strongman now living in the White House is giving it a try.” Robinson also points out that illegal crossings of the border are in a two decade low, challenging the notion of an emergency.
Fox News host Sean Hannity pushed back against the idea that that there is no true emergency by tweeting about the rise of increase in overdose death that is attributed to fentanyl in border states (fentanyl overdose deaths have been increasing all over the country and according to the Drug Enforcement Administration the majority of it enters the US through legal ports of entry.)
The editorial board of the Chicago Tribune wrote a scathing editorial critiquing Trump’s emergency declaration. They situate Trump’s decision in historical context: “In recent decades presidents have sought to expand their authority through the use of executive action. Trump’s threat to assert powers previously invoked during times of military conflict or natural disaster takes presidential prerogative to a new level.”
The editorial board of the New York Times echoed the sentiment: “This fit of presidential pique is about more than a wall. It constitutes a reordering of the power dynamic between the branches of government. Mr. Trump aims to usurp one of Congress’s most basic responsibilities, the power of the purse. Confronted with this power grab, every lawmaker should be bellowing in alarm.”
But some are arguing that Trump is not fighting hard enough. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who some believe was the impetus of the shutdown by critiquing Trump last week, tweeted that the national emergency declaration is not enough.
The president doesn’t get automatic funding for a border wall when he declares a national emergency. His declaration will be challenged and it would be up to the courts to decide if there is indeed a true emergency at the border, and if a border wall is the solution.
The American Civil Liberties Union has tweeted that the declaration is a “clear abuse of presidential power.”