On Saturday, Jan. 10th, the partial government shutdown became the longest in American history at 22 days. At the time of writing, it shows no signs of letting up, with both Republicans and Democrats digging in to their respective trenches. Since the shutdown began, President Trump has repeatedly floated the prospect of declaring a national emergency regarding the situation on the southern border in order to redirect military money to begin construction of a border wall. While this would provide a way to re-open the government without losing face, it would be a calamitous decision in the long-run for the country.
Declaring a national emergency to get funding for the wall is an easy way out of the present crisis, precisely because it bypasses the system that the Constitution has held in place for more than two centuries. Over time, there has been a steady expansion of the Executive Branch over the Legislative Branch. However, this would not just be a continuation of that unfortunate expansion of the Presidency— it would be a swift usurpation of Congressional powers that would stop just short of turning the presidency into an elected, term-limited monarchy.
In the now-famous Oval Office meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), President Trump made clear that he understood how difficult it would be to get enough Senate Democrats to vote for funding his proposed border wall. He believed that by shutting down the government, he would be able to increase pressure enough on the Democrats to drive them to the negotiating table. However, with every passing day, the prospects of a bipartisan solution emerging to re-open the government and provide funding for the border wall grows slimmer. Should President Trump fail to negotiate a deal with Congress, declaring a national emergency would not simply ignore the legislature’s ability to direct funding— it would override Congress on the issue entirely.
While many supporters of the President would be happy to see him override the gridlock in Congress to get the border wall, they do so at their own peril. This act— and tacit GOP support for it— would set an extremely dangerous precedent for all future presidents. It’s not unfathomable to imagine President Elizabeth Warren declaring a national emergency on a progressive issue, such as health care or climate change, and redirecting military funds to her proposed solution— all without the support of Congress.
Such a case, would, of course, fall to Republicans to take up the opposition to such an enormous overreach of the powers of the presidency. However, if this happened after the GOP went along with a national emergency for its own political agenda, the party would have much less credibility on the issue of national emergencies. It is critically important that conservatives stay true to their principles, including in their opposition to the ever-expanding authority of the Executive Branch.
Part of this dispute lies in the vagueness which the term “national emergency” has come to mean. Originally intended for legitimate national emergencies, such as foreign invasion, it has been watered down over the past century. These are a collection of various statues that have built up through the years, giving the president more power on an increasing number of issues.
An attempt was made in 1976 to repeal this process: Congress passed the National Emergency Act, which declared that emergencies expire after a year and that Congress must meet every six months to vote on whether to renew the emergency. This law has been an absolute failure in every possible sense: Congress has not met a single time since its passage to discuss or vote on the 31 separate emergencies that have been announced since, and the President seems more willing than ever to declare one.
It is imperative that President Trump not invoke a national emergency in order to get the required funds for a border wall, for both this administration and future ones. Should he regrettably decide to go this route, Republicans will have a duty to stand up to his overreach on this issue.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.