Congress pressed to rebuff Trump emergency declaration

February 26, 2019

Former GOP lawmakers and national security officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations made public pleas Monday for Congress to rebuff President Trump’s border emergency wall-building declaration, saying he’s wrong both about the emergency and his own claims of presidential powers.

With a first vote looming Tuesday, the two groups wrote separate declarations saying this week is Congress’s chance to push back against a president run amok, and to prevent a race to the bottom for future presidents who also wish to do an end-run around Congress.

Both groups protested Mr. Trump’s claims of a border emergency.

“We are aware of no emergency that remotely justifies such a step,” wrote the 58 national security officials, who included former Obama and Clinton administration Cabinet secretaries as well as Bush administration security officials.

The 24 former Republican members of Congress, meanwhile, said the president was testing the bounds of executive powers, and needs to be confronted in order to prevent even more encroachment in the future.

“To you, we ask this question: what will you do when a president of another party uses the precedent you are establishing to impose policies to which you are unalterably opposed?” the Republicans wrote. “There is no way around this difficulty: what powers are ceded to a president whose policies you support may also be used by presidents whose policies you abhor.”

Mr. Trump two weeks ago declared the border emergency, citing the flow of drugs, crime rates and the challenges of migrant caravans as threats to American security.

His solution involves taking the $1.375 billion Congress allocated for wall construction in the new spending bill and adding another $6.7 billion he will redirect from three other funds: a treasury forfeiture fund, a pot of Pentagon drug interdiction money and cash earmarked for military construction projects.

Mr. Trump, before departing Monday for a trip to Vietnam, said he envisions more than 200 miles of fencing can be built with the money.

He also hinted that he may try to use new designs for the wall.

“The new one is incredible looking, it’s a piece of art and by the way, it’s better looking,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration is pursuant to the National Emergencies Act, a 1970s-era law designed to give the president flexibility to respond to issues he deems of utmost urgency and importance.

The law gives Congress a way to overturn the emergency. Both the House and Senate must pass a resolution of disapproval.

Tuesday’s House vote is the first step on that path.

Democrats say they have 230 co-sponsors on the bill or far more than the majority needed to pass the legislation on Tuesday. Yet only one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, had signed on as a co-sponsor by Monday afternoon.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican, said he would support a resolution of disapproval, writing in an op-ed for the Washington Post published Monday evening that “as a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress. As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit.”

Other Senate Republicans have expressed reservations, but whether they’ll vote to overturn the president remains to be seen. If the legislation were to clear the Senate, Mr. Trump has vowed a veto, and it’s unlikely enough Republicans would vote to overturn him.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was undaunted Monday as she rallied Democrats to back the legislation.

“This is a historic moment for our country,” she said. “Perhaps it affords us the opportunity to have an all-American civics lesson about the Constitution of the United States.”

The president’s backers, though, wondered where that sense of civics was in 2012, when President Obama, who for years had said he didn’t have the power to grant illegal immigrant “Dreamers” a deportation amnesty, announced the DACA program to do just that.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who authored the memo implementing the DACA program, was one of the 58 signatories of Monday’s letter by national security officials objecting to Mr. Trump’s actions.

“We do not deny that our nation faces real immigration and national security challenges,” they wrote. “But as the foregoing demonstrates, these challenges demand a thoughtful, evidence-based strategy, not a manufactured crisis that rests on falsehoods and fearmongering.”

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