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Trump declares national emergency to unlock border wall funds

Trump aims to tap over $6.5 billion using techniques that are sure to invite legal challenges.

President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately directed $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier.

The move — which Trump acknowledged is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a congressional funding deal that included just $1.375 for border security, an amount he claimed as a victory but said was still “not enough.”

In addition to the funds Congress has appropriated, the White House will seek to redirect $3.6 billion from a military construction fund, $600 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund and $2.5 billion from a Pentagon drug prevention program, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters Friday.

From the White House’s Rose Garden Friday, Trump said he had to make the move because there was “an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, all types of criminals and gangs.”

And he lambasted congressional leaders for failing to get him the money he wanted, taking a thinly veiled shot at recently retired House Speaker Paul Ryan, saying people in Congress “should have stepped up.”

“It would have been easy,” Trump said over the course of nearly an hour of remarks followed by a question and answer session. “Not that easy, but it would have been a lot easier. Some people didn’t step up. We are stepping up now.”

The national emergency declaration is being used to tap the largest pot of money — the $3.6 billion earmarked for military construction. The White House is relying on other legal authorities to justify redirections of the other financial resources.

“It’s an all-of-the-above approach,” said a person close to the White House. “He always knew Congress was never going to give him the money he needed.”

But even as Trump made the border announcement on Friday, he focused much of his remarks on other areas he considers clear victories — trade negotiations, the economy and his efforts to denuclearize North Korea. Before even officially announcing the anticipated declaration, Trump took a winding path through the other topics for about 15 minutes.

Still, the border wall strategy is sure to appease his conservative base, which has been clamoring from Trump to win the border security funding he has vowed to obtain.

As expected, congressional Democrats announced they would immediately challenge the move on an array of fronts.

“The President’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

The Democratic House is likely to pass a resolution of disapproval to block Trump’s move, which can be brought to the Senate floor and passed by a simple majority under procedural rules. If four Senate Republicans join all Democrats, the measure would be sent to Trump, who would be forced to issue a veto.

Lawmakers are also likely to launch a legal challenge to try and block the move.

The president on Friday said he was aware his emergency declaration will face a court fight, predicting that the matter could go all the way to the Supreme Court. But he forecast ultimate victory, citing the legal battle his administration waged over a travel ban for people from certain Muslim-majority countries. The administration was eventually able to get a third version through the courts after two other attempts were blocked.

“We will then be sued,” Trump said Friday. “And we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we will get another bad ruling, and then we will end up in the Supreme Court and hopefully we will get a fair shake and win in the Supreme Court, just like the ban.

While Trump’s conservative base is largely supportive of Trump’s emergency declaration, numerous Republicans on Capitol Hill have been privately and publicly urging Trump to avoid such a step, fearful that use of such powers could propel a future Democratic president to take the same step on climate change or gun violence.

Even inside the White House, several aides have worried that a national emergency declaration would set a dangerous precedent — but Mulvaney pushed back against that notion.

“It actually creates zero precedent,” Mulvaney insisted on Friday in a call with reporters. “This is authority given to the president under law already.”

The funds Trump will get from Congress are part of a $328 billion spending billthat lawmakers swiftly passed Thursday to avoid a federal government shutdown before a midnight Friday deadline. The package’s $1.375 billion for border security will go towards 55 miles of physical barrier along the southern border in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

White House staffers held a conference call with supporters earlier Friday, telling them construction will begin in Texas and not California, where Trump will likely face a lawsuit from Democratic state leaders, according to someone familiar with the call.

A senior administration official told reporters that its ultimate goal is to repair or build barriers along at least 234 miles of the border.

“We are in the process to make sure that we can make those dollars go as far as they possibly can,” the official said. “And we expect that they will be able to go farther than 234 miles.”

Since 1976, presidents have declared 58 national emergencies. One was declared during the the Iraq war in 1990, and another was invoked after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Trump plans to travel to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida later on Friday.

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