President Trump on Friday morning signed a national emergency declaration in order to build a wall along America’s southern border. He announced the news during a press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House. “I’m going to be signing a national emergency and it’s been signed many times before,” he said. “It’s rarely been a problem. They sign it. Nobody cares.”
Though Trump claimed indifference to previous national emergency declarations due to the fact that they “weren’t very exciting,” it’s likely because, as Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale pointed out on Twitter, previous declarations didn’t involve the “seizure of money for a controversial initiative Congress refused to fund.” The president went on to cycle through his usual talking points regarding border security, citing false statistics, co-opting the stories of families of people killed by immigrants and describing human trafficking scenarios that have no basis in fact. “We’re talking about an invasion of our country,” Trump said.
Declaring a national emergency in order to build a border wall has been decried as an unprecedented abuse of presidential power that flaunts both the Constitution and power of Congress, which for the better part of two months has been struggling to agree to terms on a spending bill. One finally passed both the House and the Senate on Thursday that will set aside $1.375 billion for 55 miles of border fencing. Though the president is expected to sign that bill, he reportedly is planning on using his executive privilege to cobble together more than $6 billion in additional wall funding that will be drawn from the military’s construction budget, the Defense Department’s drug interdiction program and other sources. Democrats are not happy.
Trump is declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress, to build a wall we don’t need, to address a crisis that doesn’t exist, by claiming an authority he doesn’t have.
If that sounds like nonsense, it’s because it is. It’s also plainly unconstitutional.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 14, 2019
After the White House announced the news on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) admonished the president while assuring Americans that “we will respond accordingly.” But what can Democrats do to stop the president from hijacking funding already approved by Congress in order to build the wall?
Legislation is one option. Under the National Emergencies Act, the House and the Senate can pass a joint resolution to squash the declaration. On Friday morning, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Joaquin Castro (D-TX) announced they will introduce such a resolution in the House. “@JoaquinCastrotx and I aren’t going to let the President declare a fake national emergency without a fight,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is on board. “I will fully support the enactment of a joint resolution to terminate the president’s emergency declaration, in accordance with the process described in the National Emergencies Act, and intend to pursue all other available legal options,” he wrote in a statement on Thursday. “The Judiciary Committee will also use its authority to hold the Administration to account and determine the supposed legal basis for the President’s actions.”
If a resolution to thwart the national emergency declaration were to pass in the House, a foregone conclusion given the chamber’s Democratic majority, the Senate would be forced to put it to a vote. There’s a decent chance it would pass there, as well. Several GOP lawmakers have already denounced the declaration, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Gardner (D-CO) and Patrick Toomey (R-PA). Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate, so only four would need to vote in favor of the resolution for it to pass. The problem is that the resolution wouldn’t just need to pass; it would need to pass by an ironclad supermajority. Otherwise, the president would simply veto the bill. Introducing a resolution and forcing Republican lawmakers to go on the record is still a worthwhile response to the declaration, but it’s unlikely to prevent Trump from carrying out his scheme.
Another option is litigation, which could be an thorny issue for the president. The Department of Justice has already warned the White House that the declaration is likely to be blocked by court challenges, delaying its implementation.
SCOOP: DOJ has warned the White House an emergency declaration is nearly certain to be blocked by the courts on at least a temporary basis, preventing immediate implementation of the president's plan to pay for the wall. However, WH believes they can ultimately win on appeal.
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) February 14, 2019
Several groups have said they will sue, and Democratic lawmakers have floated the possibility of filing a suit on behalf of Congress.
BREAKING: If @realDonaldTrump declares a national emergency, we and @NiskanenCenter will represent El Paso County and @BNHR in lawsuit to stop this illegal power grab. More here: https://t.co/wB06tMQXgD
— Protect Democracy (@protctdemocracy) February 14, 2019
BREAKING: We will sue Trump if he declares a national emergency to build his racist wall.
If this invocation of emergency on false pretenses is tolerated, it could justify almost limitless abuses of presidential power, including far-reaching clampdowns on civil rights. pic.twitter.com/gq7KceGBjh
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) February 14, 2019
BREAKING: We’re suing President Trump over today’s blatantly illegal declaration of a national emergency.
There is no emergency. This is an unconstitutional power grab that hurts American communities. We’ll see him in court.
— ACLU (@ACLU) February 15, 2019
Trump didn’t seem too concerned on Friday. “We will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, and we will possibly get a bad ruling,” he said before hypothesizing that the declaration will ultimately be upheld by the Supreme Court, which is what happened with the administration’s “travel ban” on people from predominantly Muslim nations. If this is to be the case, the president isn’t making it any easier on his attorneys. He essentially admitted on Friday that the declaration wasn’t actually an emergency.
Likely to be used in future lawsuits: Trump on his national emergency declaration: "I didn't need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster … I just want to get it done faster." Via CNN pic.twitter.com/HcPrQdhRJ9
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 15, 2019
The statistics don’t back up the claim, either. Illegal border crossings have been declining steadily over the past 20 years, and the number of illegal immigrants apprehended at the border is at its lowest point in decades.