On Friday, Feb. 15, President Trump announced that he would sign a national emergency, redirecting funds from the Treasury Department and Department of Defense in order to build a wall at the southern border. Democratic and Republican leaders have denounced the decision as a broad misuse of power.
Trump also signed a 1,169 page spending bill that passed Congress this week, which has been touted as a compromise following the government shutdown last year. The new spending bill only included $1.375 billion for a border wall, as opposed to Trump’s previous $5.7 billion proposal that lead to the 35-day government shutdown this year, the longest in U.S. history.
Trump has floated the idea of declaring a national emergency in order to fund his border wall often for the past month, arguing that he had the right to do so in early January. Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office on Jan. 9, Trump stated that “I think we might work a deal, and if we don’t, I may go that route. I have the absolute right to do a national emergency if I want.”
Since its passage in 1976, the National Emergencies Act has been invoked a total of 58 times. President Trump has invoked emergency powers three times in his presidency, imposing sanctions on countries that interfere with U.S. elections, and blocking assets of individuals involved in serious human rights violations as well as individuals involved in the crisis in Nicaragua.
Trump’s latest presidential proclamation declared a national emergency at the southern border, stating that “the current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency.” Trump announced the proclamation from the White House Rose Garden, calling the situation at the border an “invasion” of the United States “with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.”
Long before the announcement was made at 10:40 a.m. on Friday, many congressional Democrats and activist groups had already threatened legal challenges to the president. On Friday afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that they would be suing the president, tweeting that “There is no emergency. This is an unconstitutional power grab that hurts American communities. We’ll see him in court.”
Hours after Trump announced the proclamation, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the State of California will sue Trump, stating that “our message back to the White House is simple and clear: California will see you in court.” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh also issued a statement on the national emergency, stating that “President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency is illegal, unnecessary, and dangerous,” and that the state is currently “reviewing the declaration impact on Maryland and all options for redressing this unconstitutional usurpation of power.”
The president did not ignore legal threats in his announcement, stating that “we will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and then they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit, even though it shouldn’t be there, and then we’ll possibly get a bad ruling…” Regarding the necessity of the emergency, the president also stated that “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”
Republican leaders are also questioning the declaration, with fears that the precedent left by such a national emergency could provoke Democratic presidents to declare national emergencies for left-wing issues. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina spoke out against the declaration, stating that “most concerning is that [the national emergency] would create a new precedent that a left-wing President would undoubtedly utilize to implement their radical policy agenda while bypassing the authority of Congress.” Thillis warned of scenarios such as “A President Bernie Sanders declaring a national emergency to implement the radical Green New Deal, including shutting down power plants, causing energy prices to skyrocket.”