President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday in order to secure funds for a wall he wants to see built along the nation’s southern border. In the spending deal reached by Congress last week, less than $1.4 billion was allocated for 55 miles of fencing. By declaring a national emergency, Trump hopes to secure $8 billion for the border wall — $3.6 billion of that will be drawn from military construction funds.
Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey voiced the concerns of some of his GOP colleagues last week when he told a D.C.-based news organization that he disapproved of Trump’s national emergency declaration.
“I never thought that was a good idea. I still don’t,” Pennsylvania’s junior senator told Axios on Thursday. “My view is that this is better to be resolved through the legislative process.”
Toomey’s official statement noted that he had “made no secret of the fact that I hoped the president would choose to avoid unilateral action.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said in a statement that “No president can be allowed to spend taxpayer dollars without authorization from Congress.”
Pennsylvania’s senior senator is part of the Democratic opposition, of course. But some Republicans made that same point.
“The Constitution’s pretty clear: Spending originates and is directed by Congress,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Politico.
“It’s a mistake on the president’s part,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also told that news website. “It undermines the role of Congress and the appropriations process.”
As the U.S. House of Representatives History, Art & Archives website tells us, “Congress — and in particular, the House of Representatives — is invested with the ‘power of the purse,’ the ability to tax and spend public money for the national government.
“Massachusetts’ Elbridge Gerry said at the Federal Constitutional Convention that the House ‘was more immediately the representatives of the people, and it was a maxim that the people ought to hold the purse-strings.’ ”
It seems the people do not support the president’s use of an emergency declaration to get money for his wall. According to the website fivethirtyeight.com, the average margin of disapproval on that question in five national polls was 65-32.
The Trump administration points out that since 1976, when the National Emergencies Act became law, presidents have declared nearly 60 national emergencies.
But critics of Trump’s emergency declaration have pointed out that such emergencies are not declared to get money that Congress denied.
Those critics include conservative Jonah Goldberg, who noted in his column, published today in LNP, that in a bipartisan vote, Congress “expressed its will on what should — and should not — be done at the border.”
Goldberg writes: “Trump has decided that not getting a political win from Congress justifies the use of monarchical powers to deploy the military on U.S. soil. It is, flatly, an abuse of power.”
Trump’s emergency declaration is being challenged in court by some 16 state attorneys general. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro isn’t among them, but said in a statement Monday that he “will not hesitate to take legal action if our Commonwealth loses out on any money we have been allocated by Congress.”
“Emergency declarations should not be taken lightly,” Smucker said in a statement Friday. “President Trump has made a strong case that there’s a humanitarian crisis at our southern border — and I agree. It’s Congress’ duty to ensure the president is acting within his constitutional authority to address that crisis. After research and consideration, I believe Trump is acting within his authority to take this action.”
Perhaps Smucker should have stopped after that first sentence.
He’s correct that emergency declarations aren’t to be taken lightly. Because they grant the president what the Brennan Center for Justice describes as “greatly enhanced powers,” they should be declared only when necessary.
Fulfilling half of a campaign vow — the other half being that Mexico would pay for the promised wall — doesn’t constitute a national emergency.
Even Trump admitted as much while speaking to reporters Friday: “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”
President Jimmy Carter declared a national emergency in response to the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. President George W. Bush declared one in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many such declarations have to do with conflicts with foreign adversaries.
Still, Smucker thinks Trump’s emergency decree is A-OK.
In his statement, Smucker said that while it will be important for Congress to continue monitoring whether Trump is acting constitutionally, the president is “not creating a new law or allocating additional funding. He is merely re-appropriating money that has already been set aside for other projects.”
That’s the problem. The representatives of the people — Congress — already decided where that money was to go.
We’re far from the only ones trying to imagine what the reaction might be someday should a Democratic president declare a national emergency to address, say, the gun violence crisis. And that’s an actual crisis that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claimed the lives of 39,773 Americans in 2017 — the most in nearly 50 years.
Imagine how Congressman Smucker and other Republicans might react. Would he think that Democratic president was acting within his or her authority?
We believe in secure borders, but declaring a national emergency to build a wall seems more akin to a temper tantrum than a sound strategy.
While it’s true that we’re states away from the southern border, we know something about immigration in Lancaster County. And we’d like to see the branches of our federal government work together to hammer out sensible immigration reform.
The president’s emergency declaration wasn’t a conservative act. We wish Smucker had followed Toomey’s lead and had called the president on it.