Earlier today, President Trump declared the situation a national emergency at the southern border in order to get access to billions of dollars for his proposed wall. This has long been a stated priority for the Administration, although it has repeatedly failed to get the necessary legislation for such a project through Congress. While I have previously explained why a national emergency would be a bad move on the President’s part, the argument in recent days by supporters of the emergency has largely shifted to being that Democrats have forced Trump’s hand. We must be very clear here: the situation that we are currently in is a result of the President’s repeated failure in negotiating with Congress.
Let’s go back in time to February 2018. Immigration was once again being hotly debated and the Senate was considering several bills aimed at reforming our immigration system. None passed, but the one that had the most overall and bipartisan support would have provided $25 billion for a border wall and a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA recipients.
The White House was quick to issue a veto threat on the grounds that the bill did not go far enough to limit chain migration and the visa lottery program. Nevertheless, a majority of senators from both parties voted for cloture on the bill, although this fell short of the required 60-vote threshold. Had Trump actively supported that bill, this entire issue would have been abated and construction of the wall would likely be underway.
With no progress made, many were able to put immigration out of mind until it erupted back into the national conversation during the summer of 2018 when the country’s child-separation policy found the limelight. A bill proposed by Representative Goodlatte (R-VA), and backed by Congressional GOP leadership, would have provided $25 billion to the construction of a southern border wall, sharply reduced legal immigration, and cracked down on sanctuary cities. All 190 Democrats were joined by 41 Republicans to vote against the bill and so it too failed.
Trump was largely absent from the negotiations on a subsequent, “compromise” proposal following the Goodlatte’s bill’s failure. While he did come out in favor of it last minute, he tweeted out during negotiations that Republicans should “stop wasting their time” on the bill until after the midterms. By the time he announced his support, support had clearly dried up from many.
Fast forward to December, in the last few remaining days of a GOP-led House of Representatives. Having spent two years controlling both chambers of Congress with no progress on the border wall to show for it, President Trump— after several flip flops— threatened that he would veto any spending bill that did not include $5.7 billion for his border wall, despite the Senate having already passed its own “clean” version. The House, in turn, passed a spending bill with the requested $5.7 billion. The result was a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended with the President signing a short-term spending bill with no border wall funding.
This brings us to our current political situation, where the President’s options were quite limited. It was widely accepted that Congressional Republicans had little appetite for another shutdown, but found themselves in a dramatically weakened negotiating position. When the compromise spending deal was reached, it allocated just $1.375 billion for the border wall. Trump, having failed to negotiate a deal with Congress, was cornered— the national emergency declaration was his only way to save face.
This last-ditch effort by the President faces a dubious future. Congressional Democrats have already gone on the record as saying that they are considering taking up a motion of disapproval of the emergency. Despite Republicans holding a majority in the Senate, they would be forced to vote on the motion, regardless of the intention of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), if it passed the Democrat-controlled House.
With a number of Senate Republicans having come out against the emergency, including Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ron Johnson (R-WI), it would not be implausible to see the motion of disapproval clearing the 50-vote threshold required to send it to the President. While his veto would require both chambers of Congress to vote in a two-thirds majority to be overturned, it would still be a black eye for the President.
Legal challenges, too, paint a dark picture for the “emergency’s” future. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), often critical of the Administration, has announced its intention to sue, claiming that declaring a national emergency in these circumstances is unconstitutional.
President Trump may have also given the ACLU an important tool for their case. During the Rose Garden address he stated, “I didn’t need to do this [declare a national emergency], but I’d rather do it much faster,” as well as, “The only reason we’re up here is because of the election.”
While the President has leeway in what he says on Twitter when it comes to political issues, legal disputes are another matter entirely— and the ACLU has already announced that it will be using this admission against the Administration.
We have seen, over the past year, the proposed funds for the border wall go from $25 billion to $1.375 billion. Remember, the White House opposed the bipartisan, compromise bill from February 2018 on the grounds that it didn’t go far enough on ending chain-migration and the visa lottery program. A year later, both of those issues are less likely to be addressed than at any previous time in the Administration, and the President lost $23 billion ($17 billion, counting his emergency-allocated money) for his wall.
Sick of winning yet?
It is unclear what the future holds for Trump’s emergency. However, one thing is certain: this was a Hail Mary effort by a politically wounded president who, having repeatedly failed to negotiate an immigration deal with Congress, decided to act unilaterally to override their opposition to his agenda. This lurches the country ever-closer towards an imperial presidency and Republicans have a duty to stand up against this.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.