WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump will declare a national emergency Friday to fund his long-sought US-Mexico border wall, after agreeing to a measure that prevents a new government shutdown but excludes the billions he demanded for the barrier.
Trump’s plan, announced by the White House on a chaotic political day Thursday, alarmed US lawmakers, including those in his Republican Party who warn that the move would set a dangerous precedent and Democrats who fumed about abuse of presidential power.
The massive spending measure will keep federal agencies operational through September 30 — a relief for lawmakers who had fretted about the possibility of a second crippling shutdown this year.
But it falls wells short of the US$5.7 billion that Trump has been demanding for a wall on the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) southern border, and Trump’s emergency declaration would help him bypass Congress and get the money that lawmakers refused to give him.
Signing the spending bill will bring an end to a rolling, two-month battle over government funding.
But by declaring an emergency, Trump opens a new confrontation — and creates some of the riskiest legal peril of his term.
Under the National Emergencies Act, the president can declare a national emergency, providing a specific reason for it.
That allows the activation of any of hundreds of dormant emergency powers under other laws, which can permit the White House to declare martial law, suspend civil liberties, expand the military, seize property and restrict trade, communications and financial transactions.
Recent presidents — including Trump — have used emergency powers on such issues. But the expectation that Trump will use the authority to raid billions of dollars from government accounts for the funding of a wall is sounding alarm bells on Capitol Hill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump’s Democratic nemesis in Congress, said declaring such a national emergency would be “a lawless act (and) a gross abuse of the power of the presidency.”
Members of her caucus were “reviewing our options” about how to respond to Trump’s move, she told reporters Thursday.
“I’m not advocating for any president doing an end run around Congress,” Pelosi added.
“I’m just saying that the Republicans should have some dismay about the door that they are opening, the threshold they are crossing.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he backs the president’s emergency intent, but several others in the Republican camp have expressed deep reservations.
“I have concerns about the precedent that could be set with the use of emergency action to re-appropriate funds,” veteran Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said in a statement.
Senator Susan Collins said it “would be a mistake” for the president to declare such an emergency, warning it would “undermine” lawmakers’ all-important role as holders of federal purse strings.
Article 1 of the US Constitution states Congress gets to decide how money is appropriated. Many lawmakers have said they have no idea where Trump will draw the funding from.
Democrats, in particular, have signalled that the move would open the door to future presidents declaring emergencies on various topics, from gun violence to climate change to the opioid crisis.
There is broad expectation that Trump’s move would be challenged in court.
And House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler expressed support for a joint congressional resolution of disapproval to “terminate” Trump’s emergency declaration.
Such a move has a chance of passing both chambers of Congress, but Trump would almost certainly veto it.
Lawmakers could try to override the veto with a two-thirds majority but that would be tough going in the Senate, where several Republicans may not wish to cross the president.
The spending measure includes only US$1.375 billion for border barriers or fencing, far from the US$5.7 billion that Trump has sought for his long-promised border wall — a demand that led to the recent 35-day government shutdown, the longest in US history.