Pardon us if we don’t buy President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border as justification to bypass Congress to fund his border wall. A year ago this month, this newspaper vigorously backed a plan touted by Trump that would have yielded a whopping $25 billion in border-wall construction, only for the president to flip-flop on us and abandon his plan because he decided he wanted more in the deal. Emergency? Obviously not.
Several ways of viewing this national emergency declaration exist. Legally, we concede the president might be able to make his case in court, given Congress has over time stupidly ceded its Article I powers to the executive branch, including in the National Emergencies Act, which is vague on what exactly constitutes a national emergency. Lawmakers likely thought it would be obvious. War? Definitely. Terrorist threat? Sure. Natural disaster? You bet. Unfulfilled campaign promise? Depends on how politically craven our federal courts are — and Trump intimates the highest court in the land is morally obligated to him.
Factually, the president is on thin ice. Trump and his minions, most of whom don’t live on the border, claim a crisis exists there. Politicians and people who live on the border dismiss this as a myth fueled by political opportunists. They cite FBI crime stats to prove how safe border communities are. No less than Republican Congressman Will Hurd, a former CIA agent who served in Afghanistan (and presumably knows about lands in crisis), says no borderland crisis exists, and he represents more of the borderland than any other lawmaker. Trump lied in his press conference Friday in claiming most illicit drugs aren’t confiscated at U.S. ports of entry. His administration says otherwise, which is why we support improvements and funding at such ports (along with some strategically placed border walls). Incidentally, illegal crossings between ports of entry, as measured in border patrol arrests, have dropped dramatically since 2000.
Finally, we see this as another issue separating principled conservatives from those who just claim to be conservatives. For a decade, we have heard regularly about the danger of bypassing Congress from folks who pulled out pocket Constitutions and quoted Article I. Yet in the face of an enormous abuse of executive power, so-called conservatives cheer or go silent. If this president succeeds with his “national emergency,” conservatives will have no standing to complain when a President Harris or a President Warren next declares a national emergency over gun violence or climate change. A firm precedent will have been set.
More points? Far-right pundit Ann Coulter tweeted last week the goal of this declaration “is for Trump to scam the stupidest people in his base for two more years.” Trump’s 2014 tweet about President Obama on his executive action: “Repubs must not allow Obama to subvert the Constitution for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate with Congress.” And this from the pro-Trump Wall Street Journal: “Democratic abuses of power are no excuse for Republicans to do the same. The Framers created constitutional guardrails precisely to protect against political passions of the moment.”