Hopes were high after last Thursday’s Congressional session, which approved a new border security and spending bill that President Donald Trump signed on Friday to avert a second government shutdown. However, the feeling didn’t last long, as later on Friday, Trump fulfilled his promise to use his executive powers to raise funds for a border wall with Mexico.
In order to accomplish this, Trump held a press conference and declared a national emergency, which in theory would allow him to reallocate money from elsewhere in the federal government, including military construction personnel and funding, towards the border wall project.
Despite the president’s actions and the support among his base for construction of the wall, a convincingly large majority of both the House and Senate, including the majority of even Republican senators and representatives, disagree with the use of a national emergency declaration to attain his goals.
According to The Associated Press, Trump’s backing within Congress from Republicans has quickly dissipated on this issue, due to the fact that winning this battle would set a poor precedent. Future presidents could use it to bypass the will of Congress, including those belonging to the Democratic Party. However, under the laws Trump is acting upon to begin the construction of his wall project, his declaration of a national emergency is, technically, still legal.
The section of the law reads as follows: “In the event of…a declaration by the President of a national emergency … the Secretary… may terminate or defer the construction, operation, maintenance, or repair of any Department of the Army civil works project that he deems not essential to the national defense, and apply the resources of the Department of the Army’s civil works program, including funds, personnel, and equipment, to construct or assist in the construction, operation, maintenance, and repair of authorized civil works, military construction, and civil defense projects that are essential to the national defense.”
Despite Trump’s claims that there is plenty of precedent to support his use of a declaration of a national emergency, his critics suggest that his declaration comes in a context no other president has used before. According to The New York Times, a traditional use of a declaration of this magnitude is in response to an outbreak of a disease, terrorist attack, natural disaster or other life threatening scenarios.
Trump’s unconventional use of a national emergency comes during a time when it may also hurt his approval ratings. According to The Washington Post, following his State of the Union address, Trump’s approval rating peaked at over 50 percent for the first time in his presidency. However, according to polls conducted by FiveThirtyEight, 65 percent of Americans oppose using a national emergency to fund the project.
Regardless of whether or not individuals believe that the issue of illegal immigration from illegal border crossings from Mexico is enough to permit the declaration of a national emergency, one thing is clear: Trump is still going to have to win a long court battle if he wishes to use his executive powers to circumvent the will of Congress. According to The Associated Press, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are already planning their legal action.