President Trump declared a national emergency at the border this morning to access billions of dollars to build a border wall that Congress refused to give him, claiming that the nation faces an “invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country.” The emergency declaration, issued after the spending package passed by Congress included none of his requested $5.7 billion for 234 miles of steel wall but instead only provided $1.375 billion for about fifty-five miles of fencing, will enable President Trump to divert $3.6 billion budgeted for military construction projects to the border wall. Those funds, along with the presidential budgetary discretion to draw $2.5 billion from counternarcotics programs and $600 million from a Treasury Department asset forfeiture fund and the $1.375 billion authorized for fencing, would total about $8 billion in all for construction of new barriers and repairs or replacement of existing barriers on the US/Mexico border.
House Democrats plan to introduce legislation to block the president’s move, and the declaration is expected to be challenged in court. Many Democrats and some Republicans say the move is an unconstitutional abuse of executive authority. “This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed president, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer say in a joint statement. “The Congress cannot let the president shred the Constitution.”
UPDATE MARCH 15, 2019: President Trump today vetoed legislation that opposed his declaration of a national emergency to fund the wall along the US/Mexico border. The legislation, which had the support of a dozen Senate Republicans along with Senate Democrats, will be sent back to Congress, where there are likely not enough votes for an override of the veto. Although Attorney General William P. Barr said that the president’s emergency order was “clearly authorized under the law,” the declaration is being challenged in courts. “Even members of President Trump’s own party are beginning to realize that he is a one-man constitutional crisis,” Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Congress has rejected the president’s declaration, and now the courts will be the ultimate arbiter of its legality.”