Donald Trump may use his powers under the Emergency Act to secure the money he needs to construct the Mexico border wall. But this strategy may cost more and deliver little.
- Even as he backs down on his plan through federal funds, US President Donald Trump could declare a state of National Emergency to secure financing for the wall.
- If he does so, Trump will be invoking his special presidential powers under the National Emergencies Act.
- The Act has been largely used in the past in the context of foreign policy, but never for a domestic construction project.
- It is tough to overturn Trump’s emergency power constitutionally, but the Democrats can certainly challenge it in court.
Despite being woefully dissatisfied, US President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a spending bill today that does not include finance for the wall, in order to prevent another government shutdown.
The bill was approved by the Senate in an 83-16 vote on Thursday. Even the House of Representatives passed it with 300 for and 128 against. It includes a funding of US$ 1.3 billion for border security, but not a penny for the Trump wall.
But Trump being who he is, one can expect a twist in the tale. Sure enough, news has emerged that Trump is now planning to leverage his emergency powers to get the money for his wall construction project. With this declaration, Donald Trump could earmark around US$ 8 billion for the wall, even higher than the US$ 5.7 billion that he demanded earlier.
The impasse between the Democrats and Republicans over Trump’s wall project led to the longest partial government shutdown in US history. On the 35th day, both sides agreed to three weeks of stop gap funding while they continued their negotiations.
UNDERSTANDING THE ‘EMERGENCY’
The National Emergencies Act can be invoked by a sitting President during national crises. On invoking the act, Trump will have special powers to access funds from military or other disaster relief budgets for building his wall. In the past a majority of emergency declarations in the US (26) have been used to impose sanctions. But the use of the emergency act for a domestic construction project is unprecedented.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders commented on the proposed action:
“The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country… (Mr Trump would) take other executive action – including a national emergency – to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer gave a joint statement strongly criticising the proposed action:
“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall… He couldn’t convince Mexico, the American people or their elected representatives to pay for his ineffective and expensive wall, so now he’s trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it.”
Experts question the very assumption that there is a crisis at the Southern border of the US, as Trump has referred to time and again. Over 2,000 people were sent back or arrested at the border every day in November 2018. But these numbers are much lower than they were a decade ago.
WILL THE GAMBIT WORK?
The Congress can end such a declared emergency if both houses vote for it, but this is subject to the condition that the President does not veto it.
Currently, Democrats have a majority in the Senate and can pass the bill. Even some Republicans have expressed displeasure over Trump’s plan to invoke the National Emergencies Act. To nullify the veto powers of the President, the proposal will need a super-majority in both houses.
There are of course several drawbacks to this course of action. This can set a wrong precedent for future presidents. Moreover, it can be legally challenged by the Democrats, and therefore deliver little gains.
Most importantly, it is vastly unpopular. In a CNN/SSRS survey released earlier this month, around 66% of Americans said Trump should not declare a national emergency for his wall. Furthermore, only around 64% of Republicans approved of the idea, much lower than his approval numbers otherwise in his party. With so much opposition, should Trump continue to remain stubborn?
You may like to read DKODING’s previous coverage of the US government shutdown: