WASHINGTON — The feud over funding the federal government shifted Friday into another fight over President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the southern U.S. border.
As Trump reached a last-minute deal with the divided U.S. Congress to avert another government shutdown, the president announced Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, circumventing the legislative branch to secure border wall funding.
“We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border, and we’re going to do it one way or the other, we have to do it,” Trump said in a speech from the White House Rose Garden.
“I’m going to be signing a national emergency, and it’s been signed many times before. It’s been signed by other presidents. From 1977 or so, it gave the presidents the power. There’s rarely been a problem. They signed it, nobody cares, I guess they weren’t very exciting.”
Trump’s declaration comes as he failed to secure congressional support for more than $5 billion he wanted for border security in a broader spending bill that funds a variety of federal agencies.
His unilateral move to declare a national emergency is based on the 1976 National Emergencies Act. It’s been used 60 times since the law was passed, including after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when President George W. Bush sought additional powers to organize the military.
But Trump’s critics assailed the move, accusing the president of manufacturing a crisis and vowing a fight in the courts.
“President Trump’s national emergency declaration is a complete abuse of power. No President can be allowed to spend taxpayer dollars without authorization from Congress,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said.
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District, called Trump’s declaration “a disturbing abuse of power to serve his political aims.”
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District added, “Declaring a national emergency to build a costly, ineffective wall is absolutely wrong – especially when doing so will draw funds away from genuine emergencies and disaster relief efforts. I will continue to defend our Constitution.”
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday in a joint statement that Trump’s actions “clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution. The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”
Trump fueled his critics by suggesting during his press conference that he didn’t “need” to issue the declaration, as he also emphasized that the wall is necessary to block drugs, criminals and gang members from entering the United States.
“I could do the wall over a longer period of time, I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster,” Trump said.
Congress does have the power to end a national emergency declaration from a president, but it would likely mean mustering a veto-proof majority in both chambers, a steep climb in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Many Republicans are supportive of Trump’s plans.
“President Trump has every right to invoke a national emergency to secure our borders – a right afforded him by the National Emergency Act of 1976, which several presidents, of both parties, have invoked as well,” U.S.Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, said. “He’s left no other choice, since both chambers and parties of Congress, once again, failed to act to secure our borders.”
Freshman U.S. Rep. John Joyce said Trump “should not be forced to do,” to circumvent Congress to get his priorities funded.
“Congress has a responsibility to provide adequate funding to protect the American people rather than have the President bail us out,” he said.
Still, the president faces some opposition within his own party.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said the declaration would “undermine the role of Congress and the appropriations process.”
She warned that it “sets a bad precedent for future Presidents—both Democratic and Republican—who might seek to use this same maneuver to circumvent Congress to advance their policy goals. It is also of dubious constitutionality, and it will almost certainly be challenged in the courts.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, has also warned that the move could lead future presidents to pursue their own agendas by using emergency declarations.
“We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” Rubio said in a statement.
Another president “may use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal,” he said, referring to Democrats’ proposal to combat climate change.
Some other Senate Republicans appeared initially wary of Trump’s move.
“I made no secret of the fact that I hoped the president would choose to avoid unilateral action and work with Congress on a legislative solution to secure the border,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said. “My staff and I are reviewing the president’s declaration and its implications very closely.”