Ahead of Speech, Focus Is on a Potential Trump Move

President has said he might declare emergency to build border wall
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 8, 2019 11:00 AM CST
Big Question Before Speech: Will Trump Declare Emergency?
President Trump will address the nation in a prime-time speech on Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

President Trump has floated the possibility of declaring a national emergency in order to bypass Congress and get a border wall built. The idea has set off all kinds of speculation ahead of the president's prime-time address Tuesday night, though the White House has given no indication he intends to make such a declaration in the speech. One thing that is certain: An emergency declaration to build a wall would be an extremely controversial move—one that "would test the limits of presidential power" and draw immediate legal challenges, per Bloomberg. A look at coverage:

  • The law: White House lawyers are currently reviewing the president's legal options, reports the AP. The idea is that Trump would divert funds currently allotted for military construction projects for the wall and order the military to do the work. The New York Times cites this federal law and this one in a detailed look at the issue, and Bloomberg cites another.
  • Risk to troops? In the New York Times, Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman runs through the legal questions and concludes that Trump doesn't have the authority to do this. "Not only would such an action be illegal, but if members of the armed forces obeyed his command, they would be committing a federal crime."

  • Another view: There's no consensus, however. The Democratic chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, thinks Trump has the authority. "There clearly is no national emergency," he tells the AP. "But they asked me, 'Can he do it?' Yeah he can. It would be wrong, it would be horrible policy and I'm totally and completely against it. But from a legal standpoint he can do it."
  • Looking ahead: At Reason, law professor Ilya Somin is skeptical Trump has the authority, but if he manages to pull it off, Somin warns Republicans of the potential precedent. Say Elizabeth Warren wins in 2020 and is rebuffed by Congress for funds to fight climate change, he writes. She "could then declare climate change to be a 'national emergency' and start reallocating various military and civilian funds to build all kinds of 'green' construction projects."
  • Dueling numbers: In arguing that the border situation is an emergency, White House press chief Sarah Sanders cited "nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists that [CBP] picked up that came across our southern border." However, NBC News reports that border officials encountered just six immigrants at the border who were on the federal list in the first half of fiscal 2018. Another 35 were stopped who were US citizens or lawful residents. Sanders appeared to be referring to the total number of suspected terrorists stopped at every entry point, most of them at airports.
  • 31 others: The country currently has 31 active national emergencies in place under the National Emergencies Act, and CNN has a complete list.
  • Phrase in play: VP Mike Pence tells ABC News that the border situation is a "bona fide emergency." He cited this article in the Washington Post. "The American people deserve to know that the situation on our southern border has become, as the Washington Post said, a 'bona fide emergency.'" The Post article focused on the struggles of border agents to cope with "record numbers of migrant families" entering the US.
(More President Trump stories.)

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