Why is it we are so able to abandon our own ideals or philosophies in pursuit of a favored outcome? How do the ends justify the means when the means are something we have historically, vehemently opposed?
President Trump has indicated that if Congress doesn't pass a bill to re-open the government (now the longest government shutdown in our nation's history) that includes over $5 billion in funding for a border wall, he will use his Executive Power and simply fund and authorize the wall himself. In order to do so, he would have to declare a "National Emergency" and then divert existing funds presumably from the Department of Defense and order a wall (or fence, or gate, or barrier) be built along the U.S. southern border. Since when does a president have the Executive Power to appropriate funds? To circumvent Congress on policy that Constitutionally lies with the Legislative Branch? Since when do my fellow conservatives, fellow Republicans, fellow believers of the limited power of government at all levels, support such a massive expansion of the power of the Office of the President?
While "National Emergencies" have been around since the dawn of our country, the modern use falls under the "National Emergencies Act" passed by Congress in 1976. Since then, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, presidents have declared "National Emergencies" 58 times. The large majority of these orders deal with imposing sanctions and seizing property of foreign governments and interests, and calling up the National Guard. The only one similar to the action President Trump wants to take was when President George W. Bush signed an order expanding his powers immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. I think, whether we approved of President Bush's actions in the wake of 9/11 or not, we can all agree it was an emergency situation in our nation. Is the need for a border wall? In an article in USA Today, (What to know about national emergencies and their role in US history, John Fritze, USA TODAY, Jan. 8, 2019) Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Program, explains that emergency powers were granted to the president so he could act when Congress didn't have time to. She points out that Congress has had plenty of time to act on a border wall, so they just don't agree with the president and don't want to. "This is a situation in which the powers are being used to get around the express will of Congress, she said. So, again, is the need for a border wall a "National Emergency? Or do we just have two branches of government disagreeing and one branch looking at how to circumvent the normal process of government and appropriations.
The criteria to self-impose an expansion of powers on a president in this manner is "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security." Illegal immigration and illegal border crossing has been going on for far too long to describe it as "unusual" and the numbers have not recently increased, as a matter of fact, they've been going down. The president has mentioned, in building his case for the potential need to declare the emergency, the opioid crisis ripping through America, with many of the drugs coming from Mexico. Its relative newness and the sheer volume of the epidemic could be called both "unusual and extraordinary, but a border wall doesn't solve that problem. Department of Homeland Security officials have repeatedly noted that the vast majority of hard drugs comes through ports of entry under "deep concealment." Meaning, the people carrying illegal cargo are coming in legally. A wall can't stop that. Some supporting this potential declaration note the caravans coming from South America. However, most of them are seeking asylum at ports of entry, a wall can't stop that either. So, what is the emergency under which President Trump will grant himself authority? This isn't about whether we need a wall. Good people and great minds have differing opinions on that. It's simply about whether we really want a president, any president, to be able to provide himself an absolute power if Congress disagrees with him.
What if the next president believes climate change is a national emergency? What if there is another tragic school shooting and another president uses that power to limit gun rights or imposes a vague restriction on those with "mental health concerns? The precedent will have been set. This isn't a slippery slope, it's an avalanche.
I've read and listened to more legal scholars and talking heads than I can count about whether the president has the legal authority to do this. I simply don't know. But, if he does it, it will most assuredly end up in the court system and we'll find out. I certainly hope the president, any president, cannot simply void our system of checks and balances, which our forefathers created to prevent anyone from having too much power. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, when opposing the planned action by then President Obama to use an Executive Order to create immigration law all on his own, "Imposing his will unilaterally may seem tempting. It may serve him politically in the short term. But he knows that it will make an already-broken system even more broken, and he knows that this is not how democracy is supposed to work."
Senator McConnell was right then. His words are still right now. Whether you want a wall and want President Trump to fulfill his campaign promise, or not, this is simply not how democracy is supposed to work.
Alicia Preston is a former political consultant and member of the media. Shes a native of Hampton Beach where she lives with her family and three poodles. Write to her at PrestonPerspective@gmail.com.