Thursday 17 October 2019

Democrats to fight Trump's 'unlawful' plan over wall

U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

Ben Riley-Smith

Democrats and campaign groups vowed to fight US President Donald Trump's "unlawful" national emergency declaration yesterday as he revealed plans to raid existing government funds to build his Mexico border wall.

The US president hopes to gather $8bn (€7bn) through various means to construct barriers along America's southern border, declaring at a White House press conference that "walls work 100pc".

Most controversial is the $3.6bn Mr Trump wants to redirect from existing military construction projects by using a power only available to him after declaring a national emergency.

He also plans to take $2.5bn from a Pentagon anti-drugs fund and $600m from money forfeited to the Treasury.

A further $1.375bn comes from legislation agreed by Congress in a compromise spending deal.

"We're going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border and we're going to do it one way or the other," Mr Trump said, adding: "We have an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country."

It prompted a fierce backlash from political opponents, advocacy groups and even some Republican senators, who believe the move amounts to constitutional overreach.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democrat leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate respectively, issued a statement condemning the announcement.

"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 defence funds for the security of our military and our nation," it read.

"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."

The Democrats are yet to decide if they will launch a legal challenge but groups including Protect Democracy, a body run by former government lawyers, and the Niskanen Centre, a liberal think-tank, have vowed to do so.

More than half a dozen Republican senators also publicly criticised the move, calling it a "bad idea", a "mistake" and "unnecessary".

Some could even join Democrats in backing a resolution blocking the declaration, though ultimately that needs the backing of two-thirds of all senators to be binding, which seems unlikely.

Senior officials in California also indicated they would launch a legal challenge.

Mr Trump (left) was bullish about a legal battle, predicting that his government would be sued but that the Supreme Court would rule in his favour.

There is no set definition of what amounts to a national emergency.

It would theoretically open up more than 100 statutory powers to him, but, each has a strict legal definition.

The Trump administration will have to prove how raiding existing military construction budgets to build the wall is permissible under the law.

Mr Trump took the move after almost two months of discussions in Congress, including a 35-day government shutdown, produced enough funding for just 55 miles of fencing. Under his plan, 234 miles of wall made from steel bollards will be constructed. Around 700 miles of the 2,000-mile border already has a barrier.

During a press conference, Mr Trump bemoaned the fact that he was unlikely to win the Nobel Peace Prize when discussing his forthcoming North Korean summit. He said that Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, had nominated him for the award, writing a "beautiful" five-page letter to the body that makes the decision.

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