Sunday 20 October 2019

Trump declares emergency at border after stinging budget defeat

The US president moved to secure more money for his long-promised wall by exercising a broad interpretation of his powers.

President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border (Evan Vucci./AP)
President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border (Evan Vucci./AP)

By Jonathan Lemire, Colleen Long and Alan Fram, Associated Press

President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency at the US-Mexico border following a stinging budget defeat.

He moved 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, Mr 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 Mr 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.

Mr 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 stand-off over border funding had led to the longest government shutdown in history. To avoid another shutdown, Mr Trump reluctantly signed a funding Bill on Friday which included just 1.4 billion US dollars of the 5.7 billion US dollars he had demanded for the wall.

Mr 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,” he said.

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Protesters against US President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration gather outside Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York (Frank Franklin II/AP)

Within hours of Mr Trump’s statement, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it would file a 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 Mr 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 would 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.

Mr Trump defended his use of an emergency declaration, saying that other presidents had done the same. Other presidents have used emergency powers, but not to pay for projects that Congress would not support.

And Mr 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”.

But he seemed to tip his hand at a political motive when he said during the news conference: “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster,” an admission certain to be cited during legal challenges.

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President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington (Susan Walsh/AP)

Republicans had opposed Mr Trump declaring a national emergency, repeatedly warning that it would set a bad precedent and divide the party when Democrats put it up for a vote. While many in the GOP on Friday fell in line behind Trump’s decision, others remain opposed.

“I don’t believe a national emergency declaration is the solution,” said Senator Thom Tillis. “It wouldn’t provide enough funding to adequately secure our borders, it would likely get tied up in litigation, and most concerning is that it would create a new precedent that a left-wing president would undoubtedly utilise to implement their radical policy agenda while bypassing the authority of Congress.”

House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler called for a hearing on the “serious constitutional and statutory issues” the declaration raises.

Congressional votes in coming weeks on a resolution blocking the emergency declaration are highly likely, but the timing is uncertain. Once a resolution is introduced, leaders by law cannot prevent votes on such a measure, which would need a simple majority to pass each chamber.

A resolution would all but certainly pass the Democratic-controlled House and may also pass the Republican-run Senate, if a few GOP senators break with Mr Trump.

Congress seemed unlikely to muster the two-thirds majorities needed in each chamber to override a certain Trump veto. But forcing him to cast his first veto on the issue would underscore internal divisions GOP leaders would rather avoid highlighting.

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President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border (Evan Vucci/AP)

The money in the spending Bill Mr Trump signed would finance just a quarter of the more than 200 miles (322km) of barrier he wanted this year.

To bridge the gap, he announced that he will be spending roughly 8 billion US dollars on border barriers — combining the money approved by Congress with funding he plans to repurpose through executive actions, including the national emergency.

Money for hundreds of military construction projects around the country was potentially targeted, and Democratic congressional aides were wary that projects sponsored by Democratic politicians might be disproportionately hit.

For all of Mr Trump’s talk of a crisis, illegal border crossings are down from a high of 1.6 million in 2000, but those were mostly single men from Mexico.

On the rise now is the number of Central American families who come to claim asylum and cannot be easily returned to their countries. Some 50,000 families are crossing the border illegally each month – straining the US asylum system and border facilities, which are not set up to manage the crush.

A number of Mr Trump’s potential 2020 challengers condemned the national emergency, including Senator Kamala Harris, who said: “We should do something about the actual emergencies that plague our nation – like climate change or healthcare access – not playing politics in order to build a wasteful border wall.”

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