The feud over funding the federal government shifted Friday into another fight over President 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.
“It is a gross abuse of power – and likely illegal – for President Trump to go around Congress to fund his border wall,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “Inventing an unnecessary emergency declaration to pay for his wall by redirecting funds already allocated to our military or domestic infrastructure sets a dangerous precedent. I am confident this lawless act will be struck down by the courts.”
U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.), the vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee and a 30-year combat veteran, asserted, “There is a national emergency in the Oval Office, not on the southwest border.”
Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings used the president’s emergency declaration to send out a fundraising email. “Just when we thought Trump couldn’t stoop lower, he surprises us with even more inventive ways to abuse the power of the Oval Office,” she wrote.
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 news 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.
“The president has worked hard to secure our border, and I support his decision to declare a state of emergency to protect our national security,” said Rep. Andrew P. Harris, the lone Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation.
Harris said drug trafficking, gang activity and sexual violence in the United States can be directly linked to the porous U.S.-Mexico border.
“Just last month, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had its largest fentanyl drug bust at the southern border, capturing enough fentanyl to kill 57 million people – that’s enough drugs to kill the population of Maryland nine times over,” he said. “The sex trafficking industry, a horrific and demoralizing crime, is also thriving from a lack of border security. The exploitation and rape of these women and children occurs both en route to the United States and after their arrival. MS-13 gang violence is rampant in the United States, and is a serious threat to our communities in Maryland.”
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.
Robin Bravender is Washington bureau chief for States Newsroom.