Just days ago, President Donald Trump finally signed a bipartisan bill to keep the U.S. government open and functioning for longer than a stopgap amount of time. He also declared a national emergency in order to do what the funding bill didn’t: reallocate money for his border wall.
It was an extraordinary step to address what one might call an “unusual” emergency. The White House was quick to point out that presidents have declared more than 50 national emergencies since the National Emergencies Act became law in 1976. But has there ever been an emergency quite like this one?
Has there ever been an emergency where the “crisis” exists for two years, but it doesn’t become an “emergency” until the president’s party loses the House in the midterms? Because the Republican Party held both the House and Senate for the first half President Trump’s term, and he didn’t build the wall then.
Has there ever been an emergency where our national security and intelligence leaders didn’t sound the alarm to Congress? Because Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and CIA Director Gina Haspel didn’t mention the urgent need for a wall in their Worldwide Threat Assessment briefing last month.
Has there ever been an emergency where the military was deployed to deal with a situation, but that wasn’t sufficient to resolve the crisis? Because the Trump Administration has sent thousands of active duty troops and National Guardsmen to the southern border already and continues to keep them there, even though former Secretary of Defense James Mattis admitted that their long term mission is “somewhat to be determined.”
Has there ever been an emergency where the president has repeated so many falsehoods, exaggerations, and made-up anecdotes? Because from denying the facts about drug trafficking in legal ports of entry to telling harrowing tales of women with their mouths duct taped closed (that no one can verify), this president has done a remarkably poor job of basing his case in facts or reason.
And has there ever been an emergency where the president declared it and then jetted off to his private vacation club? Because that’s what President Trump did last week: He signed the papers, and promptly flew off to Mar-a-Lago for a long weekend on our dime.
There has been no emergency like this, of course, because there is no emergency. The president’s own actions and rhetoric (he literally said he “didn’t need to do this” while declaring the emergency) make that point clear. It’s a ridiculous executive overreach meant to pander to the president’s base and his own ego.
Thankfully, there is a way out of this non-emergency. The aforementioned National Emergencies Act allows for either house of Congress to pass a repudiation of a president’s national emergency declaration; if passed, it then forces the other house to vote on that same resolution.
In other words, Democrats in the House of Representatives can call the president’s bluff on this fake emergency - and then force Republicans in the Senate to take a stance, which should be interesting given how many of them said they were against the declaration before the president made it. It would be interesting to know how their concerns about fiscal responsibility, comprehensive border security, and the U.S. Constitution stack up against their willingness to challenge the president.
Regardless of the outcome, it has never been more clear that we are living through a test of our democracy and its associated norms and rules. This “unusual” emergency only drives that point home.
Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at firstname.lastname@example.org.