Trump’s ‘National Emergency’ Is a Dangerous Fraud
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- President Trump has followed through on his earlier threat to declare a national emergency over border security, and use executive authority to spend more than Congress has allowed on his so-called wall. This is an abuse of his office. Trump is letting the country down — and so are the Republicans in Congress who’ve said they’ll go along.
To begin with, there’s no emergency at the border. There’s an ongoing problem of illegal crossings — but on the whole it’s less serious now than in previous years.
Securing the border does matter: Trump is right about that, and Democrats look foolish when they seem to deny it. But spending billions more on a wall built to Trump’s specifications is not the answer. The compromise spending bill that Congress and the president just agreed to includes $1.375 billion on additional barriers and other border-security measures. The idea that the country is imperiled by the failure to spend an additional $6 billion and up, on a wall that’s mainly intended to save Trump’s face, is risible.
Making his announcement, the president said that national emergencies are no big deal. “It’s been signed by other presidents,” he said. “There’s rarely been a problem. They sign it, nobody cares.” It’s true that many declarations of emergency are currently on the books, but this ignores the central point. The proper use of these measures is to speed the urgent deployment of resources when ordinary budget procedures can’t move quickly enough. It is emphatically not to provide resources for purposes that Congress — granted the power of the purse by the Constitution — has overtly rejected.
This is why Trump’s use of the emergency power is in fact a big deal: It’s an assault on the division of powers.
His action is certain to face legal challenge on multiple fronts, as the president wearily acknowledged. In the end, the courts may grant him some flexibility to repurpose funds already appropriated, and could even grant him some circumscribed version of emergency authority. It’s likely, though, that Trump doesn’t actually care. For the moment, he can claim that he’s doing all he can, and if the law tells him to stop, he can hardly be blamed for failing. In other words, this initiative may in the end prove to be just more pointless, divisive theater, rather than a conscientious attempt to seize illegal power.
Even if that’s true, the action is grossly irresponsible — because it does challenge the Constitution’s division of powers as though this is a small matter. It’s shocking that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says he backs Trump’s initiative. (Some Republicans, to their credit, have refused to go along with this.) McConnell’s position is both disgraceful and ill-advised, because if Trump does somehow succeed in expanding the scope of executive authority, the next Democratic president will be equally empowered to override Congress’s spending priorities.
The president’s carelessness over constitutional propriety is an insult to history. But so, too, is the failure of Republicans in Congress to discharge their duties under the Constitution — and to defend the prerogatives of their branch of government.
Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.
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