Power-grab 'em by the Constitution: Trump’s national emergency diverts money from real disasters
Donald Trump has declared a national emergency in an attempt to scrape funding together for his border wall project. Unfortunately for Republican lawmakers, the government’s coffers aren’t bottomless, and the money has to come from somewhere. So the president chose to divert more than $7 billion in funding from other programs. Trump’s money grab is an attempt to snatch $3.6 billion from military construction projects, such as building barracks for troops. Another $2.5 billion will be shunted from counternarcotics programs, and $600 million will come from a Treasury Department asset forfeiture fund—if, that is, a legal showdown doesn’t stop the emergency declaration in its tracks first.
While these spending numbers don’t seem massive, at least by governmental standards, they represent a disregard for the constitutionally mandated powers of the presidency and the will of the American people. Some 56 percent of people believe that using emergency powers to construct a border wall is unnecessary. Even the president himself has said he “didn’t need to do this.”
This emergency declaration—called a “power grab by a disappointed president” in a joint statement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—may have more far-reaching effects than the president’s previous bombastic ploys. No government document lays out rules for what qualifies as a national emergency. What the National Emergencies Act of 1976 does clarify is that, in his declaration, the president must specify which statutory power he will use. “Trump could conceivably use a national emergency to control communications systems—including the Internet—in addition to appropriating Department of Defense funds to build a wall along the southern border,” Indra Ekmanis writes for PRI’s The World.
Sixteen states, including New York and California, have filed suit against Trump in a challenge to his plan to misuse emergency powers to fund his border wall. If the national emergency survives the upcoming legal battle, it may set a dangerous precedent by monstrously expanding presidential powers and destabilizing the checks and balances that are keeping our democracy together—sometimes, it seems, by the narrowest of margins. Such an expansion of powers has the potential to warp our democracy to fit the president’s worldview, which is a thoroughly terrifying prospect.
One way an emergency declaration can be misused has already been made plain: In a national emergency, the president could strip funds from real emergencies in order to bankroll imaginary ones.