WASHINGTON (AP) – Defiant in the wake of a stinging budget defeat, President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency at the US-Mexico border, moving to secure more money for his long-promised wall by exercising a broad interpretation of his presidential powers that is certain to draw stiff legal challenges.
In his emergency proclamation on Friday, Trump painted a dark picture of the border as “a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics” and one that threatens “core national security interests.” Overall, though, illegal border crossings are down from a high of 1.6 million in 2000.
His declaration instantly transformed a contentious policy fight into a foundational dispute over the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, spurring talk of a congressional vote to block Trump and ensuring that the president and Democrats will continue fighting over the border wall in Congress, the courts and on the campaign trail.
It triggered outrage from Democrats, unease among some Republicans and flew in the face of years of GOP complaints that President Barack Obama had over-reached in his use of executive authority.
Trump signed the declaration to justify diverting billions of federal dollars from military construction and other purposes after Congress approved only a fraction of the money he had demanded.
The standoff over border funding had led to the longest government shutdown in history. To avoid another shutdown, Trump reluctantly signed a funding bill on Friday that included just USD1.4 billion of the USD5.7 billion he had demanded for the wall.
Trump announced the declaration in a free-wheeling, 50-minute Rose Garden news conference that included a long preamble about his administration’s accomplishments. He jousted with reporters and delivered a sing-song prediction about the fate of the order as it winds its way through the legal system before potentially ending up at the Supreme Court.
“Sadly, we’ll be sued and sadly it will go through a process and happily we’ll win, I think,” said Trump.
Within hours of Trump’s statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced it would file suit challenging his emergency powers declaration.
“By the president’s very own admission in the Rose Garden, there is no national emergency. He just grew impatient and frustrated with Congress, and decided to move along his promise for a border wall ‘faster’,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. Some Democratic state attorneys general have also threatened to go to court over the decision.
The text of Trump’s proclamation cited an increase in families coming across the border and an inability to detain families during deportation proceedings – not drugs or violence as the president outlined in his press conference. The top two Democrats in Congress said they’d use “every remedy available” to oppose what they cast as an unlawful measure.
“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 Charles Schumer said in a joint statement.
Trump defended his use of an emergency declaration, saying other presidents had done the same. Other presidents have used emergency powers, but not to pay for projects that Congress wouldn’t support.
And Trump himself sent mixed messages as to its necessity. He wrote in the official proclamation that “Because of the gravity of the current emergency situation, it is necessary for the Armed Forces to provide additional support to address the crisis.”