Donald Trump to declare national emergency on the border

World
By AP , US
Trump border wall: On Monday night, Democrats and Republicans reached a budget deal (Image: Getty)

WASHINGTON - It’s official. Donald Trump is declaring a national emergency over the US-Mexico border crisis.

The White House has confirmed that the President will issue the call while signing the government funding bill.

“President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

“The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.”

Trump has said that the move would give him the power to divert money from other budget projects into wall building.

The Senate has approved the bipartisan spending deal by a massive 83-16 margin — a deal that would finance additional fencing along the border. It will now go to the House.

The Democrats have issued a furious response to the move, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warning Republicans that a future Democratic president could declare gun violence a national emergency.

“If the president can declare an emergency on something he has created as an emergency, an illusion that he wants to convey, just think about what a president with different values can present to the American people,” Ms. Pelosi said at a press conference.

“You want to talk about a national emergency? Let’s talk about today,” she said, referring to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that saw 17 people killed exactly a year ago.

Ms. Pelosi said the shooting was “another manifestation of the epidemic of gun violence in America”.

“That’s a national emergency. Why don’t you declare that an emergency Mr. President? I wish you would. But a Democratic president can do that. A Democratic president can declare emergencies as well.”

Senator Kamala Harris, who is running for president in the 2020 election, described Mr. Trump’s wall as a “vanity project” and said declaring a national emergency was “ridiculous”.

Asked whether the Democrats would file a legal challenge, Pelosi said she was certainly considering it.

“I may. That’s an option,” she said. “We will review our options. We will prepare to respond appropriately to it.”

Sanders said the Trump administration was “very prepared” for a legal challenge, adding that their “shouldn’t be” one. “The president’s doing his job,” she said. “Congress should do theirs.”

Trump yielded on the shutdown January 25 after public opinion turned against him and congressional Republicans. He’d won not a nickel of the $A8 billion ($US5.7 billion) he’d demanded his wall but had caused missed paychecks for legions of federal workers and contractors and lost government services for countless others. It was a political fiasco for Trump and an early triumph for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The fight left both parties dead set against another shutdown. That sentiment weakened Trump’s hand and fuelled the bipartisan deal, a pact that contrasts with the parties’ still-raging differences over health care, taxes, and investigations of the president.

The product of nearly three weeks of talks, the agreement provides almost $A2 billion for new barriers along the boundary. That’s less than the $2.2 billion for border security in a bipartisan Senate bill that Trump spurned months ago, and enough for building just 88km of barricades, not the 320km-plus he’d sought.

Notably, the word “wall” — which fuelled many a chant at Trump campaign events and then his rallies as president — does not appear once in the 1768 pages of legislation and explanatory materials. “Barriers” and “fencing” are the nouns of choice.

The compromise would also squeeze funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in an attempt to pressure the agency to gradually detain fewer immigrants. To the dismay of Democrats, it would still leave an agency many of them consider abusive holding thousands of more immigrants than it did last year.

The measure contains money for improved surveillance equipment, more customs agents and humanitarian aid for detained immigrants. The overall bill also provides $A464 billion to finance dozens of federal programs for the rest of the year, one-fourth of federal agency budgets.

Trump has talked for weeks about augmenting the agreement by taking executive action to divert money from other programs for wall construction, without congressional sign-off.

He might declare a national emergency, which has drawn opposition from both parties or invokes other authorities to tap funds targeted for military construction, disaster relief, and counterdrug efforts. Those moves could prompt congressional resistance or lawsuits but would help assuage supporters dismayed that the president is yielding.

Republican Mark Meadows, who leads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters “it would be political suicide” if Mr Trump signs the agreement and did nothing else to find added money.

The measure was expected to be carried by pragmatists from both parties. Many of Congress’ most liberal members were expected to oppose it, unwilling to yield an inch to Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, while staunch conservatives preferred a bill that would go further.

“I made a promise to my community that I wouldn’t fund ICE,” said Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman who’s become a face of her party’s left wing and a leading proponent of eliminating the agency. Though Trump lost the highest-profile issue at stake, he all but declared victory on Wednesday.

At the White House, he contended that a wall “is being built as we speak.” Work on a small stretch of barriers is due to start this month in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley under legislation Congress approved last year.

Swallowing the deal would mark a major concession by Trump, who has spent months calling the situation at the southern border a national security crisis. In private conversations, Trump has called the congressional bargainers poor negotiators, said a person familiar with the conversations who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Trump has repeatedly vowed Mexico would pay for the wall, a suggestion that the country has spurned. His descriptions of the wall’s size have fluctuated, at times saying it would cover 1000 of the 2000-mile boundary. Previous administrations constructed more than 1000km f barriers.

Facing opposition from Trump, Democrats lost their bid to include language giving federal contractors back pay for wages lost during the last shutdown. Government workers have been paid for the time they were furloughed or worked without paychecks.

Also omitted was an extension of the Violence Against Women Act. Democrats say this will give them a chance later this year to add protections for transgender people to that law.

HOW COMMON ARE NATIONAL EMERGENCIES?

Trump has made numerous threats to call a national emergency in recent months.

The President has the power to declare such an emergency, but by definition, it refers to any occasion in which “federal assistance is needed to supplement state and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States”.

With Democrats controlling the Lower House now, the move could bring about a constitutional crisis.

Trump has previously tried to make the move sound quite ordinary.

“You know, we already have national emergencies out there. You know, President Obama, President Clinton, President Bush — they’ve declared many national — this is not unique. They’ve declared many national emergencies. Many, many,” he said earlier this week.

But the emergency action Trump has announced is a rare one.

The presidents he cites did not use emergency powers to pay for projects that Congress wouldn’t support.

Emergency declarations by Obama, Bush and Clinton were overwhelmingly for the purpose of addressing crises that emerged abroad.

Many, for example, blocked foreign interests or terrorist-linked entities from access to funds.

Some prohibited certain imports from or investments to countries associated with human rights abuses.

“It’s extremely rare for a president to declare a national emergency in a bid to fund domestic construction projects, particularly one that Congress has explicitly refused to fund,” said Andrew Boyle, an attorney in the national security program at the Brennan Centre for Justice. “The ones that former presidents declared are of a different sort.”

With Congress unwilling to give Trump anything close to the $US5.7 billion he wants to build a portion of the border wall, the White House has made clear that he would seek money from other sources, whether with an emergency declaration or by other means.

Altogether, Clinton declared 17 national emergencies, Bush, 13, and Obama, 12, according to a list compiled by the Brennan Centre.

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