US President Donald Trump plans to declare a national emergency to fund his controversial border wall, the White House said on Thursday, in a move that alarmed US lawmakers shortly before they passed legislation to avert a government shutdown.
Trump had signaled that he would sign the massive spending measure, which would keep US federal agencies operational through Sept. 30, but would not fund a wall on the US-Mexico border.
The emergency declaration would help him bypass the US Congress to locate and redirect billions of US dollars in funding to build it.
Trump would take the action “to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said shortly before the US Senate passed the spending bill.
The US House of Representatives followed suit hours later and Trump had until a deadline at midnight yesterday to sign it and prevent the government from going into shutdown for the second time this year.
Signing the spending bill would bring an end to a rolling, two-month battle over government funding, but by declaring an emergency, Trump would open a new confrontation — and create some of the riskiest legal peril of his term.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that members of her caucus were “reviewing our options” about how to respond to Trump’s move.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he backs Trump, but several others in the Republican camp expressed deep reservations.
“I have concerns about the precedent that could be set with the use of emergency action to reappropriate funds,” senior Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said in a statement.
Many lawmakers have said they have no idea from where Trump would draw the funding. Democrats in particular have signaled that the move would open the door to future presidents declaring emergencies on various topics, from gun violence to climate change, to the opioid crisis.
Under the US National Emergencies Act, the country’s president can declare a national emergency if they provide a specific reason for it.
That allows for the mobilization of hundreds of dormant emergency powers under other laws, which can permit the White House to declare martial law, suspend civil liberties, expand the military, seize property and restrict trade, communications and financial transactions.
Trump has repeatedly stated that he would look to other federal sources to fund his wall, one of his top campaign trail promises from 2016.
There is broad expectation that Trump’s move would be challenged in court.
House Committee on the Judiciary Jerry Nadler expressed support for a joint congressional resolution to “terminate” Trump’s emergency declaration.
That resolution would likely pass the Democratically-controlled House, but it would face a tough road in the Senate, where several Republicans might not wish to cross Trump. Even if it passed, Trump could veto it.
The spending measure includes only US$1.375 billion for border barriers or fencing, far from the US$5.7 billion that Trump has sought for his long-promised border wall.
The compromise package funds until Sept. 30 the 25 percent of the government whose operations would lapse if the bill is not signed by Trump by the deadline.
“This bill must NOT be signed by @realDonaldTrump,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted, warning that it would serve as a “stimulus” for illegal immigration, in part because it puts limits on law enforcement’s ability to deport some undocumented immigrants.
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