Trump National Emergency for Border Wall Faces Opposition
By Jim Owen
President Trump is fighting an uphill battle to persuade Congress to agree with him on the need for a national emergency to build a border wall.
After lawmakers refused to provide the funding he requested for a barrier on the U.S.-Mexico boundary, Trump announced he was using his executive power to declare an emergency. That would allow him to shift previously appropriated money from military construction projects to pay for a section of the wall.
The president wants to divert $3.6 billion from the building projects. Combined with other government funds, including the allocation Congress approved in last month’s continuing resolution to prevent another government shutdown, that would give Trump a total of $8 billion – enough for bollard barriers along 234 miles of the 2,000-mile-long border, according to the administration.
The plan immediately met with protest. Democrats in the House and Senate, allied with some Republicans, resolved to pass resolutions blocking the national emergency. Sixteen states filed lawsuits against the declaration, noting that funds for the wall would come from approved Pentagon projects. Thousands of jobs for the states’ residents are at stake.
Some landowners on the border also are taking legal action in fear of the government invoking its eminent domain authority to seize private property for construction of the wall. In addition, several liberal political organizations have filed lawsuits. The challenges could tie up the emergency proposal in the courts for months, or even years.
House Votes to Thwart Emergency
In late February, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution by a margin of 245-182 to block the national emergency. Thirteen Republicans added their names to those of all the Democrats in approving the measure.
Among the GOP representatives most vocal in distancing themselves from Trump were Elise Stefanik of New York, Will Hurd of Texas, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Greg Walden of Oregon. Rodgers said she was “100 percent” for the wall but viewed the emergency declaration as an erosion of the legislative branch’s constitutional rights.
Right-wing House members, other than Justin Amash of Michigan and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, voted against the resolution. Amash was the lone Republican who joined more than 200 Democratic representatives in cosponsoring the legislation. Ohio Republican Warren Davidson initially supported it, then changed his mind. GOP Rep. John Katko of New York abstained from the vote.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy aligned with Trump. The California Republican has favored a national emergency to build the wall ever since Congress failed to earmark the funding the president requested.
GOP Senators Abandon Trump
Even though Republicans hold the majority, the Senate appears poised to follow the House in rejecting the emergency declaration. The president has indicated he will veto the resolution when it reaches his desk.
Two-thirds of the members of both houses would have to vote to override the veto to stop the emergency. The 47 Democrats and two independents in the Senate need four Republicans to come over to their side to provide enough votes to end the emergency. That threshold apparently was reached when Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky revealed that he would oppose the president.
Three other Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina – had already jumped ship. Paul predicted that at least six additional GOP members of the chamber would soon follow suit.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Tillis wrote than Trump should not “bypass Congress” to further his objectives. Collins, during an interview with an NBC News station in her home state, said the president was violating the Constitution’s separation of powers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged that the emergency declaration was headed for defeat. He told reporters that he had advised Trump not to follow through due to the growing opposition, and said he would not pressure Republicans to vote for the emergency.
Republicans Explain Their Stance
Paul claimed that Trump was exceeding his constitutional authority in attempting to finance the border wall by declaring a national emergency rather than securing congressional approval. The senator cited his libertarian beliefs, which preclude presidents from assuming powers that the nation’s founding fathers did not sanction.
Some other Republicans are worried about setting a dangerous precedent. They warn that if Trump gets his way, a future Democrat in the White House might resort to national emergencies to address gun control or climate change.
Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, disputed the concern. He told reporters that Trump’s declaration would set “zero precedent.” Another administration official claimed that the National Emergencies Act of 1976 gave presidents the right to “do exactly this.”
During Barack Obama’s eight years as commander in chief, he frequently signed executive orders when Congress would not approve his proposals. One of the most controversial orders involved the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which permits undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors to remain in the country under certain conditions.
Some Republicans responded by calling for Obama’s impeachment. Democrats are now asking their GOP colleagues to apply the same reasoning to Trump. Amash accused his fellow Republicans of hypocrisy. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., described the emergency declaration as an “end-run” around Congress, prompting Paul to slam Democrats for not making such statements when it came to Obama’s alleged abuse of power.
The president’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill are remaining firm in their demand for the emergency and the wall. One of them is Sen. Lindsay Graham, a former harsh critic of Trump. The South Carolina Republican proclaimed on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that he backed the president’s declaration even though it would at least temporarily hold up construction of a middle school for the children of military personnel.
Graham pledged to find money for the school from somewhere else in the federal budget. He noted that drug addiction costs taxpayers billions of dollars a year, and made the case that a border wall would reduce that number. The senator recalled that previous presidents, including Obama and George W. Bush, beefed up border security without pushback from their political adversaries. Graham suggested that Democrats have forced Trump to take the extreme step of declaring a national emergency.
Even if the House and Senate cannot muster the two-thirds majorities needed to override a veto of their resolutions, Trump is up against a number of court challenges.
State officials in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Illinois, Oregon, and Virginia have filed lawsuits against the president’s declaration. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra cautioned that funding not only for military construction projects but also for confiscating drugs and enforcing other laws at the border is at risk.
Trump ridiculed the officials, accusing them of representing the “radical left” and others who believe in “open borders.” He singled out California, blasting the state’s Legislature for spending money on environmental initiatives while resisting efforts to keep undocumented immigrants from entering the country illegally.
Assistant Defense Secretary Robert McMahon insisted that taking money away from scheduled military construction projects would not cost jobs and federal funding for states.
In testimony before a House committee, the official offered reassurance that the projects will eventually receive funding – even if they must wait to be part of next year’s Pentagon’s budget. McMahon claimed the delays would not impede the country’s ability to defend itself.
Federal judges also will consider lawsuits that the American Civil Liberties Union, the Sierra Club, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and other activist groups have filed. Cecillia Wang, ACLU’s deputy legal director, wrote that building the “unnecessary” wall would lead to “deeply harming” people who live and work near the border. She called the emergency declaration “patently illegal.”
What Do Voters Think?
Politicians worried about re-election are anxiously watching polls to discern public attitudes about the Trump’s national emergency for the border wall. Recent surveys have shown that Americans’ opinions depend upon their political leanings.
In February, a Marist Institute poll found that 36 percent of voters backed Trump’s declaration. Eighty-five percent of Republicans expressed that view. However, only 6 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents concurred.
A similar phenomenon occurred in an August 2014 survey following Obama’s executive order upholding a provision of the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamcare). Thirty-four percent of those who answered the poll – 57 percent of Republicans but just 8 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of independents – said Congress should block the order.
Implications for the President
Trump may be about to issue his first veto because he has lost the support of a significant number of Republicans. When the party controlled the Senate and House during the last two years, lawmakers did not enact any legislation against Trump’s wishes.
The possibility that more and more Republicans will balk at the emergency declaration could doom Trump’s signature campaign promise of building the wall. The trend also might make it harder for the president to advance other elements of his legislative agenda. That may hamper Trump’s bid for a second term in office.