Boxed in by Congress and facing denunciation from hard right, Trump finally grabs for a national emergency (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)
After the failure of the 35-day Trump Shutdown and facing capitulation over his ultimatum for $5.7 billion for his Wall with Mexico, Donald Trump will play his last card: the declaration of a national emergency where no emergency exists.
On Thursday both chambers of Congress passed a bipartisan agreement for funding of the Government through September. The measure included $1.375 billion for barriers such as enhanced fencing, and other funds for border guards and technology at ports of entry — but not a penny for The Wall.
Trump was faced with either giving way after years of proclaiming The Wall or casting his first Presidential veto. But during the afternoon, the announcement was made — first through Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and then from the White House — that Trump would take his extraordinary step.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said:
President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border. The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border and secure our great country.
Trump’s step was enabled by McConnell. Two weeks ago, the Majority Leader warned Trump that Republican legislators would not support a national emergency, enabling Trump to bypass Congress and grab money from US agencies for The Wall. But on the Senate floor yesterday, he gave full support for the declaration.
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) February 14, 2019
McConnell offered no reason for his vital shift of position.
Where Does Trump Get The Money?
An Administration official said Trump will use the emergency to obtain about $8 billion for barriers, including for The Wall.
He did not point to the sources beyond the $1.375 billion in the Congressional measures. However, the White House has previously said that the money can be taken from the military, including from disaster relief funds.
The step is likely to increase antagonism between Trump and the Pentagon, with commanders already upset by Trump’s impulsive decisions forcing out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and creating uncertainty over the US position in Syria and Afghanistan and over Russia, North Korea, and NATO.
The declaration will also face legal challenges. Seven Senate Democrats, including four announced or possible Presidential candidates, immediately introduced legislation to block diversion of money from disaster relief. House Democrats endorsed a joint resolution to nullify the national emergency.
Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi reminded Trump of the first anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Flordia, killing 17 students and staff:
You want to talk about a national emergency, let’s talk about today. That’s a national emergency. Why don’t you declare that emergency, Mr. President? I wish you would.
Some Senate Republicans joined the criticism. “I don’t think this is a matter that should be declared a national emergency,” said Lisa Murkowski. Susan Collins of Maine said the declaration was “of dubious constitutionality,” and Marco Rubio called it “a bad idea”.
A “person familiar with the discussions” said that, while giving public support, McConnell warned Trump that he has less than two weeks to try to persuade wavering Republicans over the national emergency — otherwise he will face the prospect of a Congressional rebuke.
Caving to the Hard Right?
But Trump ultimately faced the decision of how to escape criticism from the hard-right commentators who have propped up his Presidency.
Polemicists and sites such as Ann Coulter and Breitbart had assailed Trump as weak as his decision loomed. Fox commentator Laura Ingraham blasted on Thursday:
Mr. Trump’s announcement capped hours of last-minute drama as he came under pressure on Thursday morning to not sign the spending legislation from conservative figures like Laura Ingraham, who denounced it on Twitter as a “monstrosity” and a “Total SCAM!”
So the president has his hand forced to sign a 1,159 page bill that we KNOW is filled with amnesty, PORK and wiggle room? Total SCAM! @realDonaldTrump wasn’t elected for this.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) February 14, 2019
Hesitating, Trump was urged by Acting Chief of Staff to tell GOP leaders to pass a short-term funding bill, rather than a seven-month measure, while continuing negotiations over border security. But that would have undermined the Republican-Democrat initiative to keep the Government open: asked by Trump if the bill had any “land mines”, McConnell said it did not. The Majority Leader framed it as a “win” over House Speaker Pelosi, whom Trump despises.
But told by Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and White House lawyers that he can move around money, Trump — or key White House advisors — seized on the national emergency declaration to cover their flank with the hard-right. McConnell rushed to the Senate floor to announce the decision.
Despite the announcement of the declaration, the hard-right outlets are maintaining their denunciation of the Administration this morning. Breitbart headlines dramatically — and without foundation — “Border Bill Allows Mexican Cartel-Connected Counties to Stop Wall“.