President Trump declared a national emergency in order to bypass Congress and secure additional funding for a wall on the southern border. He made the announcement from the Rose Garden on February 15.
Democrats have threatened legal action to counteract the declaration. But President Trump may have provided Democrats with ammunition for a legal case by suggesting that the emergency action may not have been necessary. His exact words during the speech were, “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.” He added that he didn’t need to use the wall as a 2020 campaign issue because “I’ve already done a lot of wall.” That portion of the speech is isolated and embedded below.
The president was also expected to sign the border security bill passed by Congress last night to avoid another government shutdown. That measure provides $1.375 billion for barriers. But President Trump could divert as much as $6.5 billion more from other areas, including military construction spending.
President Trump began his Rose Garden speech by talking about trade negotiations with China, touched on the economic relationship with the UK, mentioned the fight against ISIS, and talked about an upcoming summit with North Korea before bringing up the border.
The president said, “We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border. We have to do it. Not because it was a campaign promise, which it is, it was one of many… We have tremendous amounts of drugs coming into our country, much of it coming from the southern border.” He talked about El Paso and the border wall built there. He then mentioned Israel’s wall, arguing that it was “99.9 percent effective.” President Trump argued that a wall would help to prevent human trafficking, praised the military, and claimed a caravan of immigrants had been “broken up.”
The president eventually said, “I’m going to be signing a national emergency,” adding that other presidents had issued similar declarations in the past. “It’s been signed by other presidents from 1977 or so, it gave the presidents the power. There’s rarely been a problem. They sign it, nobody cares. I guess they weren’t very exciting. But nobody cares, they sign it. For far less important things in some cases, in many cases. We’re talking about an invasion of our country, with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.”
President Trump went on to spotlight the “Angel Moms,” the mothers of victims reportedly killed by undocumented immigrants. Families of victims joined the president in the Rose Garden with pictures of their loved ones.
The president then spoke again about drugs. He talked about a conversation he reportedly had with Chinese President Xi Jinping about punishments for drug dealers in China. President Trump said, “Their criminal list is much tougher than our criminal list. Their criminal list, a drug dealer gets a thing called the death penalty. Our criminal list, a drug dealer gets a thing called, ‘How about a fine?’ And when I asked President Xi, ‘Do you have a drug problem?’ He said ‘no, no, no.'” President Trump went on to say, “If we want to get smart, we can get smart. You can end the drug problem. You can end it a lot faster than you think.”
It’s worth pointing out the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico living in the United States has declined over the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border has gone down dramatically since 2000. And statistics analyzed by the Cato Institute show that illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes than American citizens.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Congress Passed a Bipartisan Spending Bill That Includes Less Funding for Physical Barriers Than President Trump Requested
The announcement comes one day after Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill that allows for $1.375 billion for bollard-style fencing at the border. It provides an overall $1.7 billion increase in spending for the Department of Homeland Security, which would pay for more customs officers, humanitarian aid and technology. The bill also funds approximately 45,000 beds at immigration detention centers operated by ICE.
The compromise bill was put together by a bicameral committee of nine Democrats and eight Republicans from both the House and Senate. They were given three weeks to find a border security solution, following the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. A “clean” spending bill signed on January 25 kept the government funded through February 15, meaning that the nation risked another government shutdown unless a deal was reached.
President Trump repeatedly demanded $5.7 billion for a border wall and said he was “not happy” with the bill. But the Senate passed the measure 83 to 16 and the House approved it 300 to 128.
2. President Trump Would Likely Take Funds From the Department of Defense, Including Money That Was Allocated for Military Bases
The White House began drafting options for a national immigration emergency back in January. The way this works is that the executive branch can reallocate funds that Congress has already approved spending in other areas. If declared, President Trump would likely move the largest sum of funds from the Department of Defense.
There is about $21 billion for military construction projects not yet spent, according to the Military Times. The money was planned for improvements in the United States and at international bases.
The newspaper identifies several projects that were “deemed critical to force readiness” that could see severe delays. They include F-35 hangar improvements at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, drydock repairs at Hawaii’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, vehicle maintenance upgrades at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, and new family units in South Korea, Italy, and Wisconsin.
3. Democrats Threatened Legal Action Over a National Emergency; Congress Can Also Block It With a Concurrent Resolution
A national emergency was expected to face immediate legal opposition. Congressional Democrats have long threatened to challenge such a move in the courts. They argue that there is not an emergency at the border; their main point is that if there really was an emergency, then why would the president have waited this long to take action?
If Democrats file a legal challenge, it will likely begin a long, drawn-out process. Georgetown University Mark Rom, who teaches public policy, told Roll Call that he predicts the Supreme Court would eventually rule in the president’s favor. But it could take several months, even years, before a decision was made. Rom told the website, “My expectation is this will play out like Trump’s initial travel ban: He will keep tinkering and keep tinkering until the courts decide it’s just within legal boundaries.”
Congress cannot stop a president from declaring a national emergency. But they can pass a concurrent resolution to overturn it. The House has signaled it would pass a joint resolution quickly. On this issue, the Senate would be required to vote on it within 18 days. If both chambers approve it, and the president subsequently vetoes it, Congress would then need a two-thirds majority to overturn the veto.
Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement following the president’s emergency declaration that reads in part, “The President’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security of our military and our nation. This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process.”
4. Several Congressional Republicans Have Expressed Dismay About a National Emergency, but it Remained to Be Seen Whether They Would Eventually Fall in Line
The threat of a national emergency appeared to put congressional Republicans in a tough spot. Many of them, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, initially urged the president against this course of action because of the precedent it could set. (Sen. McConnell switched course on February 14 and said he would support the president’s decision).
First, Congress has the power of the purse. Article I of the Constitution states that the power to raise revenue and decide how federal funding should be appropriated.
Second, lawmakers such as Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida argue that future Democratic presidents could use this situation to justify issuing their own national emergency on climate change. Sen. Rubio said he voted against the border security spending bill, which also included funding for six other measures, because it did not include disaster relief for hurricane victims. He told the Tampa Bay Times, “We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution. Today’s national emergency is border security. But a future president may use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal.”
Sen. Rounds told CNN, “What if somebody else thinks that climate change is a national emergency. Then what will they do and how far will they go?”
Senator Rand Paul also voted against the border security measure. He explained via Twitter, “I’m disappointed with both the massive, bloated, secretive bill that just passed and with the president’s intention to declare an emergency to build a wall.” He added, “I, too, want stronger border security, including a wall in some areas. But how we do things matters. Over 1,000 pages dropped in the middle of the night and extraconstitutional executive actions are wrong, no matter which party does them.”
But lawmakers such as Sen. Lindsey Graham are vocally supporting a national emergency, tweeting “I stand firmly behind President @realDonaldTrump’s decision to use executive powers to build the wall-barriers we desperately need.” Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who was part of the bipartisan committee that drafted the compromise bill, released a statement that read in part, “Our agreement makes a significant down payment on the president’s ultimate border security goal, and to help further achieve that goal, I plan to support his national emergency declaration.”
A Monmouth University poll released on January 28 found that 34 percent of Americans said they would support President Trump using his authority to declare a national emergency. But 64 percent oppose this type of action, preferring for the Trump administration and Congress to reach a legislative deal.
5. President Trump Previously Slammed President Obama for Taking Executive Action
Donald Trump has not always been a fan of using executive power to bypass Congress. In November of 2014, he slammed President Obama for taking the same course of action and criticized him for being unable to reach a deal with lawmakers. “Repubs must not allow Pres Obama to subvert the Constitution of the US for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate w/ Congress.”
He was talking about President Obama’s decision to extend protections for millions of DREAMers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. At the time, the Justice Department released a memo explaining why the action was within the president’s authority. But in June of 2016, the Supreme Court effectively struck it down. Lower courts had ruled against enforcing Obama’s action, and the Supreme Court tied 4-4. The tie meant the rulings in the lower courts would stand.