President Donald Trump, citing an “invasion” of drugs and criminals, declared a national emergency at the US-Mexico border on Friday to fund construction of his long-sought wall, a move slammed by Democrats as an unlawful “power grab.”
Trump’s extraordinary step would enable him to bypass congressional opposition and seek to redirect federal funds — including billions of dollars of Pentagon money — to build the wall.
The move is a clear-as-day message to his right-wing base that he is trying to deliver on a key election promise — and a sign that illegal immigration is likely to remain a political flashpoint into the 2020 presidential campaign.
“We are going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border and we are going to do it one way or the other,” Trump told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.
“I am going to be signing a national emergency,” said the US leader. “We are talking about an invasion of our country, with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.”
Trump’s decision to resort to emergency powers — after a bitter standoff with Democrats blocking his wall project culminated in a 35-day government shutdown — has alarmed lawmakers, including in his Republican Party, who warn it sets a dangerous precedent.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top congressional Democrats, immediately denounced a “power grab” by Trump.
“The president’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security of our military and our nation.”
‘See you in court’
New York State’s attorney general announced the first of what were expected to be a slew of legal challenges.
California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted a simple message to the White House: “See you in court.”
Trump said he fully expected to be challenged in court — but voiced confidence he would prevail.
“Look, I expect to be sued,” he said bluntly. “Sadly, it will go through a process and happily, we’ll win, I think.”
Trump’s announcement, which opens a new confrontation with lawmakers and creates risky legal peril, comes after he reluctantly agreed to a deal keeping federal agencies operational through September 30 — but without the funding he sought for a border wall.
That bill, which he signed Friday, caps a two-month battle over border money which Democrats are widely seen as having won.
Trump has long demanded $5.7 billion to build portions of a wall on the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) southern border. But Congress provided just $1.375 billion for border barriers, and not specifically a wall, in the bill.
In his announcement, Trump let slip that he himself may view the crisis less as an emergency and more about his funding priorities.
“I could do the wall over a longer period of time,” he conceded. “I didn’t need to do this, but I would rather do it much faster.”
Multiple Democrats seized on the remark, saying it undercut his own argument for a national emergency.
The White House says the emergency order empowers it to pull around $6.6 billion from other sources, mostly already-allocated Pentagon funds.
‘Dismay’ over precedent
Trump took action under the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which allows such declarations provided there are specific reasons for them.
Most recent presidents have used emergency powers, but almost always on non-controversial topics. George W. Bush declared an emergency after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, while Barack Obama did so to combat swine flu in 2009.
The prospect of Trump using the authority to raid government accounts for the funding of a wall was seen as a precedent-setting move, and sounded alarm bells on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers cherish the US Constitution’s assertion that Congress gets to decide how money is appropriated.
“I’m just saying that the Republicans should have some dismay about the door that they are opening, the threshold they are crossing,” Pelosi said Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed the president over the emergency, but other Republicans voiced reservations including senators Chuck Grassley and Marco Rubio, who both warned of a worrying precedent.
Democrats have signaled the move would set a precedent for future presidents to declare emergencies on anything from gun violence to climate change to the opioid crisis.
Court challenges aside, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler said Democrats were preparing a congressional resolution of disapproval to “terminate” Trump’s emergency declaration.
Such a move has a chance of passing the House and Senate. But Trump would almost certainly veto it, and overriding a veto would take a two-thirds majority in each chamber — a tough challenge under any circumstance.