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National emergency or power grab?

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The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Speed Read

Who: President Donald J. Trump

What: President Trump declared a national emergency Friday morning in a tactical play to bypass Congress to access billions in federal funds for construction of his long-promised wall along the United States border with Mexico. (Click here for full text of the announcement.)
When: The White House announced Trump would sign a bipartisan border security compromise aimed at averting a second government shutdown just as the House was due to vote on it Thursday; however the bill did not include the funding he’d requested for border barriers.
Why: The border compromise bill contains border funding provisions of around $1.4 billion — far short of the $5.7 billion Trump originally sought. In declaring a national emergency, Trump can now divert money earmarked for military construction and drug prevention programs toward the construction of the wall – an effort previously blocked in Congress.
Where: Trump made his announcement in a rambling, unscripted and inaccuracy-riddled (see AP’s fact check) address from the White House Rose Garden, saying national emergencies had been signed by prior presidents for “far less important things” than the border wall.
What’s next: Trump’s leveraging of the 1976 National Emergencies Act to build a wall has roiled critics on both sides of the aisle, accusing him of executive overreach, or in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s words, a “power grab.”
Pelosi hasn’t ruled out legal action, and in a joint statement, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Attorney General Xavier Becarra said: “If the president tries to use a made-up emergency to pay for his border wall, then California will see him in court.” Several Republican senators also slammed Trump. Florida’s Marco Rubio suggested the move was “violating the Constitution,” while Maine’s Susan Collins said it was of “dubious constitutionality.”
Trump acknowledged his declaration will likely face a long legal battle. “They will sue us in the Ninth Circuit … and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling and then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake,” he said.


There is no emergency and the declaration is executive overreach in the extreme.

“The influx of migrant families at the southern border does not constitute a national security crisis, much less a bona fide emergency. There is, at this point, a worsening humanitarian crisis, actively fueled by the draconian policies of the administration. But the suffering on display requires thoughtful policy adjustments, not a steel monstrosity.” – New York Times editorial
The emergency is Trump’s ego.
“Our southern border isn’t facing an emergency, but our democratic institutions are. No president should ever be allowed to invoke ‘emergency’ powers simply because they can’t get what they want through the normal political process. That is a gross abuse of the Office of the Presidency and sets a dangerous precedent for future presidential administrations. Every American, regardless of party, should oppose it.” – Chris Truax, USA Today
It’s time to revise the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which grants presidents far too much power outside the rule of law.
“Congress has handed presidents an all-too-handy tool of tyranny commonly used by autocrats to amass more power, crush dissent and eviscerate democratic institutions. In Mr. Trump’s case, it has handed an unguided missile to an ignorant, impetuous man-child. Congress should have known better. After all, it enacted the National Emergencies Act of 1976, which purported to regulate such declarations, only two years after President Richard Nixon’s abuses of power forced his resignation. The act actually made matters worse in a key respect: It defined a national emergency as ‘a general declaration of emergency made by the president.’ This circular definition, of course, is no constraint at all. Or as Humpty Dumpty says to Alice, ‘It means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’” – Peter Schuck, New York Times
“Trump’s move shows that it’s long past time for Congress to revisit the National Emergencies Act. While presidents should have significant leeway to decide what is an emergency, that discretion must not be unlimited. Congress should fix its previous omission by setting forth basic criteria for what constitutes an emergency — for instance, the situation must represent a significant departure from the norm and must pose an imminent threat to public safety or other important national interests.” – Elizabeth Goitein, Washington Post
The legal challenges will be many – and could outlast Trump’s time in office.
“Absent a legislative fix of some sort, the clearest threat to the Trump administration’s wall plan is likely to come from the federal courts. There is no shortage of potential plaintiffs who are likely to have standing to challenge the Trump administration’s actions, including individuals whose property is taken through eminent domain to build the wall, entities who would otherwise have benefitted from the original intended purposes of the funds the Trump administration is redirecting.” – Scott R. Anderson and Margaret Taylor, Lawfare
“Even in the event of an eventual victory in court, any legal process is going to take at least a year to be resolved, without much time to do actual construction before the 2020 election, which Trump could lose. So basically there’s a non-zero chance that Trump will have gotten Republicans to go along with him setting a precedent for the next Democratic president, only to not even have a border wall to show for it.” – Philip Klein, Washington Examiner
Democrats’ compromise strengthens the case for Trump’s case.
“Had there been no funding for building the barrier, legal challengers to Trump’s reallocation could have argued convincingly in court that Trump was effectively contradicting the express will of Congress. … However, by allocating $1.375 billion for a barrier of some kind — even one not made of concrete — Congress muddied the waters for this argument. Now Trump’s lawyers will be able to say that Congress supports building a wall, and that his re-allocation of funds is necessary to achieve Congress’s expressed will.” – Noah Feldman, Bloomberg
National emergencies should be reserved for terrorism threats.
“The Trump administration is framing the necessity of a southern border wall, in part, as a response to a national security emergency involving terrorists. This is a barrel of bunkum and balderdash served with generous helpings of hogwash. … A southern border wall would do absolutely nothing to stop terrorism, which in the United States today is almost entirely a “homegrown” phenomenon driven by jihadist materials on the internet, which knows no borders.” – Peter Bergen, CNN


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